Comment: Britain must stop fudging its way to equality and let religions marry gay couples

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Following the launch of the government’s public consultation on how to implement equal civil marriage rights, Rabbi Aaron Goldstein, the co-chair of Rabbinic Conference of Liberal Judaism, says religious ceremonies must be included in the final result.

I have written before about the process of moving towards Equal Marriage in the UK and now with the launch of the Government’s consultation process titled, ‘Equal Civil Marriage Consultation,’ feel moved to do so once more. I would encourage all readers to participate in the consultation.

I do not feel that the current consultation goes far enough. You will notice that there is only one question relating to religious marriage. On the front page it states that a key proposal of this consultation is, “to make no changes to religious marriages. This will continue to only be legally possible between a man and a woman.” This confirms that the Government proposals are not for Full Marriage Equality but yet again for a stepping-stone towards it. As a Brit, I am used to our culture of fudging our way forwards but the reasons why we need to keep pushing for Full Marriage Equality remain the same.

At the outset, I must point out that comments concerning ‘religious freedom’ around debate led by the Pope, the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu and Cardinal Keith O’Brien, are spurious. Not once has there been any suggestion of compulsion – religious institutions must accept equal religious marriage. Rather, there currently is a bar on my religious freedom to perform a Jewish marriage ceremony for couples, regardless of their sexuality, who yearn for God’s blessing upon the essence of their union: love, commitment, sharing of values and ethics in a monogamous relationship.

Most religious leaders who speak in favour of marriage as an institution should be interested in increasing the numbers of those marrying rather than placing further impediments to those who seek God’s blessing in all good faith. Those who still believe that marriage can contribute positively to the lives of individuals, households and society and who can articulate why that is so, ultimately come back to the argument that marriage was and can only be a union between male and female.

I would like to quote the British Jewish scholar Israel Abrahams (1858-1925). “The formulation of the highest truth needs constant revision, and even more surely do the forms in which truth is clothed. When dogma takes the place of love, religion is dead.”

In my consideration of Equal Marriage, I have found it helpful to consider what was so important about when my wife and I married. We had an incredible day. The wedding itself was wonderful being in Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue where we had both had our baby blessings, Bar and Bat Mitzvah and Kabbalat Torah (Confirmation). We had gone all the way through our Cheder (Saturday morning Religion School) and graduated to being Teaching Assistants and then Teachers before we went to university. This was our spiritual home.

Our legal standing did not come into our desire to be married to each other, nor did any financial consideration or thought of children. Our party was certainly the best ever (I hope we all believe that of our own!). Yet the essential element of our wedding day was our Rabbi (who happened to be my father) asking God to bless our marriage.

I am now, myself a Rabbi of Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue. When my daughters – if they choose to – get married, I believe that I should have the religious freedom to ask God to bless their marriage, whether they are marrying a man or a woman. As a bridegroom, I enjoyed the rights and freedoms of being heterosexual. I know that sexuality is not a matter of choice. I believe that society has accepted that fact. If dogma is not to take the place of love, then it is time to progress our definition of the institution of marriage.