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March 19th, 2004
The institution of marriage, which has been viewed as the basic unit of societal organization by both Jewish and Western civilization for at least 3,300 years, has in recent years been under siege.
Now, thanks to recent decisions by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the walls of the citadel have been breached, and it seems increasingly likely that constitutional amendments, whether at the federal or state level, will be necessary to repair or, minimally, contain the damage.
The spearhead of the assault has been the unrelenting efforts of various homosexual and lesbian advocacy groups, in league with such organizations as the American Civil Liberties Union, to portray the demand that same-sex marriages be recognized as a civil rights issue.
In the course of the ensuing debate, the rhetoric has become increasingly aggressive and strident, such that adherents to traditional moral values are often smeared with charges of bigotry and the ugly and malign neologism homophobia.
Indeed, so hysterical has the rhetoric become that it is tantamount to the demonizing of anyone who clings to such traditional moral values, universally espoused when this country was founded and the federal and state constitutions written.
At issue is whether or not the states should sanction sexual conduct that the western world has hitherto deemed an abomination, and whether the full faith and credit of the federal government should be used to compel recognition of such a state sanction.
The emphasis on the word conduct is deliberate, for in that word lies the difference between bigotry and a principled moral stance.
Everyone has urges
The Torah forbids mishkav zachar, homosexual conduct, and refers to such conduct as a toeva, traditionally translated as abomination (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13).
Such conduct is considered abominable not only for Jews, but is also considered a violation of one of the Seven Laws of Noah and hence prohibited to all humanity (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 108a).
It is the conduct that is abominable, however, not the individual who may feel the yearning to engage in such conduct. We are all subject to various appetites and urgings; the mix of such urgings that make up the tool kit of each individuals yetzer ha-ra (evil inclination) is unique to that individual.
The person subject to the urge to commit mishkav zachar need not give in to the urge, any more than someone sorely tempted to appropriate anothers property need give in to the urge to steal. It is no less ludicrous to insist that a civil right exists to give into base appetites and engage in homosexuality, than it is to assert a similar right to pilfer.
But wait, the advocates cry: Surely someone who is robbed is harmed, whereas mishkav zachar between consenting adults has no victim. Why, then, should such conduct meet official disapproval?
The fact is that no one can say whether or not engaging in activities traditionally regarded as depraved is harmless. The ethos of Torah, which asserts the positive effects of continually engaging in mitzvot upon the human character, as well as the negative effect of constantly indulging in what the Torah classifies as sin, clearly argues against the assertion.
What is more, there has never been a society in all of known human history that has permitted exclusively homosexual activity for any length of time and has nonetheless flourished.
Even in the famous case of the ancient Greeks, homosexual activity was considered part of the mentoring process between an older man and a younger protégé. The norm was that every man eventually would marry and found a family.
The Talmud, indeed, asserts that one of the causes of the biblical flood was homosexual activity, and asserts that one of the redeeming qualities that has acted to preserve humanity from destruction ever since has been the prohibition of such unions.
The claim has also been advanced that homosexuals are somehow biologically different from heterosexuals, and so cannot help themselves. For such people, to engage in heterosexual relations is an abnormal and unnatural act.
The truth is that this assertion, while it has its advocates in the scientific community, remains an unproved assertion. At least an equal number of scientific practitioners do not support the notion, and the demonstrated experience of various outreach organizations in changing the orientation of people who wish to change (as well as the example of the ancient Greeks, cited above) argues strongly against it.
Furthermore, it is not at all clear what the effect of such families upon children forced to live within them will be. The jury is still out on the matter, and will be for a very long time; but it requires a very special arrogance to play with peoples lives by deliberately placing them into situations contrary to received, conventional morality without any idea of the outcome.
Such breathtaking arrogance brings up the issue of the creeping subversion of the American democratic process. It is plain that a large majority of the citizens of this country, in every state, are morally opposed to altering the definition of marriage.
Yet, a judicial body, by the slenderest of majorities (three to two) has seen fit not merely to declare Massachusetts present statute unconstitutional (at least arguably within the courts purview) but also to dictate to the state legislature the form that any future legislation will have to take.
By not recognizing homosexual unions and granting them legally enforceable rights, society continues to express its disapproval of such conduct and refuses to open the door to further defining of deviancy down (to use a phrase coined by the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan).
For, once this sexual taboo is lifted, what is to prevent the sanctioning of polyandrous, polygamous or incestuous unions (so long as the latter are between two adults)? Where is the barrier to be raised?
For all of these reasons, it seems, the idea of a constitutional amendment to define marriage permanently as the union of a man and a woman is an idea whose time has come.
Rabbi Avner Zarmi is vice president of the Wisconsin chapter of Agudath Israel of America.