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Marriage Diversity at the Shabbat Table

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Maryland's Question 6 -- a referendum which would allow same-sex couples to wed -- is a source of raucous debate at our Orthodox Jewish family's Shabbat table. Like the four sons at the Seder table, together we represent four polar views on marriage.

My oldest child, an ultra-Orthodox and ultra-liberal Rabbi, fights for the rights of homosexuals at his work and in the community, but believes that homosexual acts are forbidden -- by the Bible for men and by the Rabbis for women. Even as he denounces other denominations for refusing to ordain openly gay candidates, he tells us that the Law is immutable and unambiguous and applies to non-Jews as well as Jews. In fact, he says, the Talmud praises non-Jewish societies for three things, first being "that they do not write a marriage contract for males." Jewish law -- of which he is a scholar -- would never condone marriage equality.

That son will vote No.

My daughter charges her brother with duplicity. How can he support gay rights on the street but not in the civil law? If marriage is an American sacrament enshrined in the tax law and in the immigration system, in the retirement scheme and in health care, my daughter demands that it be made available to gay couples in equal measure to heterosexual ones, as a right. She brings proof in tragic stories, of gay couples committed for 40 years and when one partner dies, the survivor is left with no pension, no health care and a big tax bill. For my daughter, marriage equality is a self-evident truth.

That daughter will vote Yes.

I am foreigner -- a resident alien -- and have never quite grasped the American marriage fetish. Oh, I certainly understand the appeal of a flouncy white dress and the blowout shindig that costs more than a house. Which girl hasn't dreamed of being a queen for a day? But what connection is there between the sculpted wedding invites and the ice-carving station (or the quickie visit to City Hall) and the decidedly unromantic tax return, green card, 401(k), medical insurance, inheritance? Why should I be able to remain in the Goldene Medina (the Golden Country) because I snagged some guy I met at a bar into tying the knot? What has marriage got to do with it? I think that the government has as much business putting its nose into marriage as it has into my son's Bar Mitzva party. That is, none.

If I were allowed to vote, I would vote, "You've got no business asking me this question."

As for the son whose Bar Mitzva I'm planning. He's the youngest, the one at the Seder table who doesn't know how to ask a question. Once, I was folding laundry outside the room where he and his cousin were discussing the important things of life. "I don't know what to doooo," the cousin wailed. "I'm in love with a man and I'm in love with a woman and I don't know who to marry."

I stopped the laundry, held my breath.

"When you're thinking about who to marry," my boy counseled, "don't think about whether someone is a boy or a girl. Think about if they if they are kind and warm, if they tell good jokes, if they can make a smooth chocolate mousse, if they're fun and -- and," he paused, thinking. "And a really fast runner!"

I let my breath out slowly, and I knew that my little boy's counsel is the voice of the future. One day the marriage equality debate and Maryland's Question 6 will look as quaint as the battle for women's suffrage.

If he could vote, my younger son would vote thus:

Don't think about whether someone is a boy or a girl when you're thinking about who to marry.


Viva Hammer is an Australian who has lived in the United States half her life. She is a Washington partner at an international consulting firm, is a Research Associate at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute of Brandeis University and a member of Jews United for Justice. vhammer@brandeis.edu