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Home » Mase'ei, Same Sex Marriage

Masei: Same Sex Marriage Part Three

Submitted by on August 4, 2005 – 3:20 am2 Comments | 3,706 views

This essay is not related to the Parsha of the week but is posted here
because the subject has recently become a household topic of discussion

[Part Three of Three]

Same Sex Marriage

Part Three

A Question of Definition

The debate on same sex
marriage has focused in part on the distinction between same sex
marriage and same sex unions. This distinction is dismissed by some
as mere semantics but I believe it is a question of definition. Does
the concept of marriage apply to members of the same gender? This is
not a question of rights and freedoms but one of concept.

Proponents of the
legislation will instinctively respond with a resounding yes.
Opponents of the legislation will respond with an equally forceful
no. The predicate of this dispute is homosexuality itself. Those who
view homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle support same sex
marriage. Those who don't, do not support same sex marriage.

This predication is, in my
opinion, erroneous because this is not a question of homosexuality,
it is a question of marriage. What is the definition of marriage?

Why do two people who love
each other marry? Why not simply profess undying love and commitment
and proceed to build a home and family without a marriage?

Invitation to G-d

Jewish thought views
marriage as the sanctification of a relationship. In marriage we
summon G-d into our relationship and ask for his blessing. Before the
wedding it was a partnership of two. The marriage ceremony introduces
a third partner, namely G-d.

Geometrically a three point
triangle is the strongest structure. Introducing a third point that
husband and wife look to in mutual devotion introduces a new measure
of strength and consistency. Indeed, our sages taught that a thrice
threaded rope is not easily undone.

On a deeper level, marriage
binds man and woman on a dimension that is otherwise not accessible.
A man and woman can pledge undying commitment to each other without
marriage, they can connect intellectually and emotionally without
marriage but their souls cannot connect until they invoke G-d's name
and channel his blessing into their relationship.

Indeed, man and woman may
even experience a spiritual connection before marriage. This is
because they may be each other's soul mates but this connection
cannot be consummated until the moment of marriage. Shared interest,
uniform response to issues, identical personalities and easy rapport,
are only external indications of spiritual connection. The inner
connection is formed when the souls are bound together and that
occurs only at the moment of marriage.

When G-d Declines

If marriage is an invitation
to G-d to join the relationship then it is possible only under
circumstances sanctioned by G-d. A member of the clergy who
officiates at a wedding can at most invite G-d to join a relationship
but he cannot force G-d to join.

Can a couple be declared
married if we know with certainty that G-d does not sanction, and
will therefore not join, the marriage? Marriage is not accomplished
by the performance of the ceremony but by the presence of G-d. When
G-d absents Himself the marriage is not in effect.

Furthermore, when one knows
that G-d does not approve of a relationship is it not inappropriate
to invite Him to join it? If you were celebrating a business merger
that one member of the board protested would you send him an
invitation to the party? Would you announce after the party that this
board member attended and that he gave his blessing to the merger
when he did not?

That is why the very phrase
same sex marriage is an oxymoron. We cannot induct G-d, against his
own will, into the relationship of a same sex couple. (1)

Civil Unions

The natural response to this
argument is, “Rabbi, we're not talking about religious marriage. We
know that religious authorities cannot sanction same sex marriage.
We're only talking about civil marriage, so why the great fuss?”

If civil marriage were
called legal agreements or civil unions I would have no quarrel with
the legislation. (2) However, proponents of the legislation insist on
calling it a marriage. A secular court cannot ordain a marriage.
Marriage is a religious ceremony that consummates a religious status,
ordained only by G-d. The court can only confer legal status, not
marital status.

When it confers legal status
the court borrows use of the religious term “marriage” because
the term conveniently reflects the permanent bond between husband and
wife. Religious terminology in the secular judicial system is odd but
I would not object to it if the courts only sanctioned unions that
are not sacrilegious.

However, When courts confer
marriage upon a couple that cannot be religiously married I must
object to the courts' use of the religious term marriage. They may
call it a civil union but not a marriage. Unions are different from
marriages. A Marriage is a religious affair. A union is simply a
legal agreement that confers legal benefit upon the parties involved.


Is this a case of mere
semantics? No, it is actually one of definition but, in any event,
semantics are also important. Words create images that form mental
pictures in the minds of orators and listeners alike. These mental
images often form impressions that in turn influence popular opinion.

This is why I refuse to
accept marriage terminology in same sex unions.


  1. This is written with
    full sympathy for the freedom of individual choice. G-d did indeed give us the freedom to choose but it is a
    freedom to choose between predefined choices. It is not a freedom to
    redefine the options. Even as we empathize with individuals who
    are driven to homosexual activity by urges beyond their control we
    must remember that empathy does not justify the redrafting of G-d's
    law or the readjustment of his decisions. We dare not falsely claim
    that G-d sanctions a relationship that the Torah forbids.

  2. I would have difficulty
    with the insinuation that the homosexual act is condoned but
    religion does not and should not influence civil law in a democracy.


  • Ann Brady says:

    Shalom Rabbi Gurkow,

    An excellent, unapologetic and stimulating piece. I would like to comment on “…individuals who are driven to homosexual activity by urges beyond their control…”

    I do not believe homosexual people are driven by “urges beyond their control” any more than are heterosexual people. In both instances, that would better describe true psychopathic criminal behavior.

    Such a statement unwittingly suggests that the human being, whatever his or her sexual orientation, is a “victim” of his/her sexual urges, which human beings are not. It invites a call for leniency before HaShem’s Law, rather than compassionate respect. HaShem surely would not have burdened us with laws by which to guide and govern our most intimate behaviors if He had created us to be enslaved to raw, mindless instinct, as are animals.

    All human activity, be it in keeping with HaShem’s Law or brazenly against it, occurs as a result of choice. I believe homosexuality is a choice made by a human being for any number of reasons as personal as are one’s sexual preferences and feelings. Media’s coverage of gawdy, outlandish, promiscuous gay behavior has little to do with human dignity and choice, and more to do with supplying a voyeuristic interest in no-holds-barred sexuality with an exhibitionist desire to degrade and exploit human sexual drives. Likewise, the Christian campaigns against homosexuality, while largely ignoring adultery and pedophilia, have little to do with respecting HaShem’s Law.

    Looking forward to reading more of your good thoughts–I sensed that you exercised considerable restraint in expressing them on this subject. I, too, am weary of being fed a steady diet of a wide variety of behaviors–homosexuality being but one of a large selection offered–passed off as “human rights” or okay because “everyone is doing it.” B’H

  • Liz Roberts says:

    Thank you for your comments on this subject. I have been very frustrated by the way “Homosexual rights” and “Same sex Marriage” has been thrown in my face. When I try to explain my reasons, I am accused of following a non existant G-d, among other things. I am told the Old Testament laws no longer apply, that G-d doesn’t oppose homosexual acts, etc. I have reached the point I don’t know how to respond, but feel I can’t not respond because not responding would make it seem as though I agree. My adult son (who is married to a woman) constantly posts things on Facebook in support of gay marriage/unions, etc. Usually I just hide them from my view, but I strongly object. He has a 14 year old daughter who can view whatever he posts on his Facebook page. How should one respond without appearing to be holier than thou or as though I think I am superior? Thanks!

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