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The chuppah awaits: Liberal Jews drive the U.K.’s equal marriage campaign

July 2 2013
Haaretz.com

By Rabbi Danny Rich

Just as supporters of same-sex marriage are celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act law as unconstitutional, so the campaign for the right of equal marriage (to include same-sex couples) is reaching its critical phase in the United Kingdom.

And just as the progressive streams of Judaism have been vocal in their support for gay marriage in the U.S. , the campaign for equal marriage in the U.K. has been led by Liberal Judaism (the British equivalent of American Reform, representing just under 10% of Jews in the U.K.), together with the Quakers and the Unitarian Church. The U.K. campaign is set to succeed despite the opposition encountered over some 15 years from the majority of those who declare that they speak for British Jews.

It could be as early as the end of 2013 that equal marriage will be enacted into the law of England and Wales, following the approval of the Marriage (Same Sex) Bill by both chambers of Parliament. Members of the House of Commons voted 400 in favor and 175 against, and the House of Lords backed the proposal by a similar margin. The Lords are expected to complete a line-by-line examination of the measure by the end of the summer.

The Marriage (Same Sex) Bill permits those religious streams who so desire to solemnize marriages between two men or two women in, for example synagogues or other religious buildings. Liberal Judaism’s Council (on which each of its 39 congregations is represented) has already indicated its wish to proceed with this. The same legislation protects the right of individual institutions which refuse to adopt equal marriage policies, and prohibits same sex marriages being conducted under the auspices of the Church of England.

For Liberal Judaism, equal marriage is both a matter of justice and a question of religious freedom. Liberal Judaism has always considered itself welcoming to, and affirming of, everyone who has sought to make use of its services, although it was not until 1991 that Liberal Judaism published its pamphlet, "Where We Stand on Homosexuality?" Primarily motivated by the intolerant backlash that had followed the AIDS epidemic, the pamphlet rejected prejudice and discrimination, and affirmed the idea that "the appropriate context for the expression of human sexuality is a lasting relationship of mutual love and faithfulness between two persons." Read more