An Open Letter to Sam Olens, Georgia's Attorney General

Dear Attorney General Olens, 

We haven't yet met in person, but according to Facebook we have 23 mutual friends. I'm sure our paths have crossed at some point. I wanted to take a moment to talk to you about the court challenge to Georgia's same-sex marriage ban. 

By now I'm sure you're aware of Georgia Equality's petition asking you not to defend the marriage ban in court. I echo their requests, although between you and me I think you're looking forward to taking this fight to court. That's a mistake, but I understand that you feel the need to appease your right-wing base.

 I've been trying to figure out what your argument in support of a discriminatory law might be, and I think I've got a sense of what your defense will entail. It won't be that government has an inherent interest in maintaining heterosexual couplehood as an ideal (it doesn't), or that children are better off being raised by a heterosexual couple (they're not). No, if I had to guess, I'd venture that you're going to say that allowing Georgia to discriminate is a matter of religious freedom.

I know you were a big fan of the so-called religious freedom bill that nearly made its way though our state legislature last term. (And I know that you even rallied some local rabbis to support the bill - well, I should say, tricked some local rabbis to support the bill. Those rabbis later said that they were confused about what they were supporting, and withdrew their support once they learned that the bill actually would allow many types of legalized discrimination.)

Why did those rabbis withdraw their support from the bill, and why did so many other rabbis come out against it?  Because Judaism makes a very clear distinction between civil law and religious law.

In Judaism, as you surely know, religious commandments affect only those who are adherents to the law. If I go out to dinner with a non-Jew and they wish to eat pork, the only appropriate response I should give is, "enjoy!" The same is true for civil marriage equality. While the ability for Judaism to bless a same-sex marriage has been debated within our own ranks, many people - including many orthodox, observant Jews agree that the government has no place being in the business of discrimination. (And, as Jews, we understand all too well the danger in having someone else's religious beliefs imposed upon us by a civil court.)

There is no law in Judaism that would encourage a baker to deny someone a wedding cake, or allow a photographer to refuse to take pictures of a celebration in which they did not take part. In fact, Judaism has a principle called "Dinah d'malchuta dinah / דינא דמלכותא דינא" - The law of the land is the law. That means that a civil law is enforceable law, and unless that law requires Jews to violate one of the central commandments, we are required to follow it. Allowing others to pursue their own happiness - especially when it does not affect us nor our own freedom in any way - is not only allowed by Judaism, it is required.  (And, a majority of the Jewish movements in America support and bless same-sex marriages.)

Arguing against civil marriage equality - arguing in favor of government-sanctioned discrimination - is not a Jewish value, and it does not constitute religious freedom in the name of Judaism.  Please do not attempt to distort our tradition in this way. You have until July 21 to make your decision. In that time, I hope you consider what our traditional actually teaches - that government-sanctioned discrimination is unjustifiable in any religious context, and that each of us is required to do what we can to improve the world - to further the cause of tikkun olam - repairing the world.

 

B'Shalom, 

 

Robbie Medwed

 

Robbie Medwed is the assistant director of the Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity, where he oversees their educational workshops and programming. He holds a master's degree in Jewish education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

 

To sign Georgia Equality's petition, please visit this website.

 

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Robbie Medwed

Robbie Medwed began working with SOJOURN when it was known as The Rainbow Center as a volunteer in 2008. He served as chair of the TRC Advisory Board and as co-chair of Purim off Ponce (2010, 2011) before moving into his current role as Assistant Director, where he oversees SOJOURN's educational programming and outreach, including our award-winning workshops and training seminars. Robbie holds a master's degree in Jewish education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has written curricula and nationally-recognized inclusive programs for the Marcus JCC of Atlanta, BBYO, USY, Camp Ramah, the Jewish Teen Funders Network, Babaganewz, and JewishGPS. Robbie is also a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and cyclist. Robbie can be reached at robbie@sojourngsd.org.