On December 3 2011 the Australian Labor Party voted in favour of supporting marriage equality. This was promptly followed by a statement of support from the Union for Progressive Judaism and simultaneously a statement of opposition from the Orthodox-based Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia. J-Wire then reported a message from Jewish Community supporting Marriage Equality (J4ME) along with a statement from the ECAJ:
Peter Wertheim, the executive Director of The Executive Council of Australian Jewry, told J-Wire that his organisation had no policy in place relating to same sex marriage.
The ECAJ recently passed a motion that calls for “mutual respect for the human dignity of all members of the [Jewish] community” and also acknowledges “that there is still much work to be done to remove intolerance of and unlawful discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons in the Jewish community and the wider Australian community”. This motion appears on the ECAJ Platform.
Peter Wertheim has recently been promoting via email the fact that Israel is the most GLBT-friendly place in the Middle East and that it is the only safe place for GLBT people to live openly and out in the Middle East. Indeed, the Israeli situation for GLBT people is mostly good. In some cases Israel is actually more advanced than Australia in affording GLBT people human rights. One such case is that Israel recognises foreign marriages of same-sex couples whereas Australia has chosen to legislate against such recognition.
I wish to make two points regarding the recent support from the ECAJ for GLBT people and the promotion of Israel as a relatively safe GLBT space.
Firstly, the human rights and equality that GLBT people in Israel have been afforded have come about through changes to civil law and have for the most part been independent of (Orthodox) Jewish law or “halacha”. If halacha was the law of the land in Israel, GLBT people would have no equality or recognition in any form. This is evidenced by the aforementioned ORA statement and the general attitude of Jewish Orthodoxy to homosexuality. This religious intolerance of homosexuality is not dissimilar to that which exists in the Islamic states that surround Israel.
It is the secular and progressive attitudes toward equality and human rights that has made Israel the beacon of tolerance and acceptance of GLBT people in the Middle East that it is. With ongoing work in this area, such as that around surrogacy and parenting (here and here), Israel will become an increasingly proud oasis of acceptance for GLBT people and will no doubt be further promoted as such by Zionist advocates.
Secondly, with the ECAJ calling for respect of GLBT people in the community and the acknowledgement that there is “unlawful discrimination” against GLBT people, such as in the case of the Australian Federal Marriage Act, I find it hard to understand that the ECAJ chooses to remain silent on marriage equality.
In fact, this silence betrays the ECAJ’s platform on Social Inclusion, where it states:
1. Social Inclusion This Council: 1.1 NOTES that it is the vision of the ECAJ to create and support a community in which all Australians, including all Jewish Australians:
(a) feel valued and their cultural differences are respected;
(b) have a fair opportunity to meet their material and other needs; and
(c) are equally empowered as citizens to participate in and contribute to all facets of life in the wider community;
1.2 NOTES that as Australians we take great pride in what we see as the uniquely Australian values of social egalitarianism, “mateship” and a “fair go”; 1.3 REAFFIRMS our profound commitment on behalf of the Australian Jewish community to the dignity of difference, gender equality, and a belief in the equality of humankind;
Here the ECAJ is calling for “equal empowerment”, “social egalitarianism” and “a belief in the equality of humankind”. To my understanding, marriage equality fits all of these three concepts. To clarify, egalitarianism is defined as “affirming, promoting, or characterized by belief in equal political, economic, social, and civil rights for all people.”
I believe the ECAJ does want marriage equality to be legislated, but has not yet taken the time to think about the implications of not vocalising its support for it. The ECAJ is an organisation that has a genuine concern for the human rights of all people in every nation on this planet. Further, it is inherent in the Jewish psyche to understand what deprivation of human rights can lead to.
I sincerely urge the ECAJ to consider its stance on marriage equality in general and speak out in favour of removing the legislated discrimination that all GLBT Australians face when it comes to recognition of our relationships. It is without a doubt in the ECAJ’s best interests to advocate marriage equality, as doing so will have the double reward of making Australia a better place for all its citizens, and simultaneously making the beacon of light in Israel, the country that it is so proud of, shine even brighter.