What we hear and what we neglect to say in the debate about same-sex marriage, from the Chief Rabbi of France

22 Feb

The Chief Jewish Rabbi of France has a piece in First Things which I find very helpful (and should go a long way in repudiating the notion that no sensible case against gay-marriage can be made which isn’t based in raw backward prejudice).  I say again, the debate about gay-marriage in France appears to be more sophisticated and meaningful than our own.

A great many of our fellow citizens see demands for homosexual marriage as just one more step in the democratic struggle against injustice and discrimination, a continuation of the fight against racism. It is in the name of equality, of open-mindedness, of being progressive and right-thinking that we are asked to accept this challenge to the foundations of our society. It seems, moreover, on the basis of public opinion polls, that this challenge is already accepted by a majority of our fellow citizens and thus the question of its establishment as a matter of law has not provoked a debate worthy of the momentous issues at stake.

I believe, on the contrary, that it is a matter of the greatest importance to make clear the true implications of the negation of sexual difference and to debate publicly what is at stake rather than falling back on principles, such as equality, that flatter those who set themselves up as their standard bearers, even though the way these principles are invoked to justify the homosexual-marriage agenda does not stand up to critical scrutiny. This subject deserves better than the court of political correctness, whose authority, advocates of homosexual marriage hope, will prevail until the law is voted on—a tribunal they defend by means of disqualifying caricatures against anyone who dares to question their project and their motives.

I speak as a rabbi, and more particularly as the Chief Rabbi of France. I am not the spokesman of a group of individuals but the voice of French Judaism in its religious dimension. Like other rabbis, I am a reader, a teacher, and a commentator on texts of Jewish wisdom that are part of a great tradition of dialogue, of dialectics, of hermeneutics—in a word, of pluralism. I have always understood myself as duty-bound to intellectual engagement in the great choices of history and first of all in the great choices faced by my country. Thus I am necessarily concerned by the proposed legalization of homosexual marriage, as well as by plans to change our laws so as to accommodate homosexual parenting and adoption. This is why I reject the stance of a minority of religious leaders who withdraw from the debate on the grounds that we have the possibility of preserving marriage as a religious institution distinct from civil marriage. There is nothing to admire in such withdrawal when it serves the interest of those who avoid debates.

My choice to speak up is the studied expression of the solidarity that binds me to the national community of which I am a part. It also reflects my sense of responsibility to uphold the universal principles that France has forged and defended over the centuries, principles on which the Republic was founded and without which it cannot endure. If non-Jews choose to hear me out, they will receive what I say in light of their own personal judgment, their own system of values, and their own identity as religious, agnostic, or atheist. It will be up to them to recognize any wisdom or moral value in what I say.

It will surprise no one that my worldview is guided by the Bible and by the rabbinic commentaries. On the key subjects of sexuality and reproduction, it is based on the complementarity between man and woman. In this essay, I have referred only to the Book of Genesis and thus have chosen not to mention the prohibitions against homosexuality included in Leviticus, for it seems to me that what is at stake now is not homosexuality, which is a fact, a reality, whatever my view of it as a rabbi might be. What is at stake is the risk of irreversibly scrambling genealogies, as well as legal and social statuses (the child-as-subject becoming child-as-object) and identities—a confusion that would be harmful to society as a whole and that would lose sight of the general interest in seeking the advantage of a tiny minority.

Let me add that my biblical vision of the world, in which justice is a central principle, leads me naturally to condemn and to fight strongly against the physical and verbal attacks of which homosexual persons are victims, in the same way that I strongly condemn and fight against racist and anti-Semitic speeches and deeds.


Rabbi Bernheim offers an analysis of arguments advanced by those who favor a law establishing homosexual marriage, first giving the argument that we hear for it and then what we often neglect to say.

Homosexual marriage in the name of equality?

What we hear: “Homosexuals are victims of discrimination. They must have the right to marry, the same as heterosexuals.”

What we often neglect to say: From the fact that people love each other it does not follow necessarily that they have the right to be married, whether they be heterosexual or homosexual. For example, a man cannot marry a woman who is already married, even if they love each other. Likewise, a woman cannot be married to two men on the grounds that she loves both of them and that both want to be her husband. A father cannot marry his daughter, even if their love is uniquely paternal and filial.

Of course, we understand the wish of people who are in love that their love be recognized. Still, there are strict rules defining what kinds of unions can be recognized as marriages and what kinds cannot. Thus “marriage for everyone” is only a slogan, since after the authorization of homosexual marriage the law would maintain forms of inequality and discrimination that would continue to apply to those who love each other but to whom marriage is not available.

The argument for marriage for all conceals a split between two existing visions of marriage. According to one worldview, which I share with a great number of people, both believers and nonbelievers, marriage is not only the recognition of a loving attachment. It is the institution that articulates the union between man and woman as part of the succession of generations. It is the establishment of a family—that is, a social cell that creates a set of parent–child relations among its members. Beyond the common life of two individuals, it organizes the life of a community consisting of descendants and ancestors. So understood, marriage is a fundamental act in the construction and the stability of individuals as well as of society.

According to another worldview, marriage is an obsolete and rigid institution, the absurd legacy of a traditional and alienating society. Is it not paradoxical to hear those who share this worldview raising their voices in favor of homosexual marriage? Why do those who reject marriage and prefer free unions demonstrate alongside activists in favor of homosexual marriage?

Whichever worldview you hold, it is clear that what is going on behind the slogan of “marriage equality” is a substitution: An institution fraught with legal, cultural, and symbolic significance would be replaced by a de-sexed legal category, thus undermining the foundation of individuals and of the family. In the name of equality and the struggle against discrimination, should we suppress all references to sexual difference in relations between citizens and the state, beginning with the marriage ceremony and the family records that issue from this ceremony?

Read the rest here

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