By Penny Schwartz
Two weeks ago, on the streets of San Francisco, Susan Jacobs celebrated with millions of people across the nation, the just-announced U.S. Supreme Court decision establishing marriage equality across the country.
Jacobs, former long-time editor of the Journal, and her family relocated to the city last year.
As widely reported, the 5 to 4 decision, Obergefell v. Hodges, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, ruled that same sex couples can now marry in all states. By the time the decision was announced, gay and lesbian couples already enjoyed this right in 36 states and the District of Columbia. As a result of the ruling, bans against same sex marriage in 14 states will no longer be valid.
Eleven years ago, Jacobs stood under the huppah in Salem, Massachusetts, with her long-time partner Andrea.
Held in May, 2004, a few months after Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage, the ceremony was officiated by Rabbi Neal Loevinger, then the rabbi at a Conservative North Shore synagogue. While the couple had a Jewish commitment ceremony a decade before, when they first lived in San Francisco, being married legally was an important statement to make for their two children, Jacobs recalled.
“People fought for this, and we should be counted,” she said.
All these years later, she was among hundreds of thousands of people, including many young people, many of whom are straight. It was not about being gay or straight. It was about equality,” she told the Journal in a phone conversation.
“It makes me feel proud of Massachusetts. It’s been at the forefront of marriage equality, before any other state,” she said.
That sense of pride was evident across a wide swath of Boston’s Jewish community as emotions ran high with jubilation, elation and cheers of joy following the announcement of the U.S. Supreme Court decision.
“Marriage rights are a huge step towards equality,” according to Jordyn Rozensky, interim communications manager at Keshet, the Boston-based national organization that works for the full equality and inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Jews in Jewish life. “The mood in the Keshet office when the Supreme Court ruled in favor … was jubilation!” she wrote in an email.
In his sermon delivered that evening at Temple Elohim in Andover, Rabbi Robert Goldstein said, “Today’s Supreme Court decision, lauded by most Americans, reviled by others, represents a sea change in how we in America view marriage. The majority of the justices affirmed that human beings express love in different ways, and in the absence of violence or coercion, our fellow Americans may express their love any way they see fit.”
Rabbi Goldstein, who has officiated at a couple of same-sex marriages in Massachusetts, told the Journal that his views supporting marriage equality evolved over the years, as is the case with many others, including religious and political leaders. For many people, it’s been the realization and acceptance that someone in their family or a close friend or neighbor is gay or lesbian.
That acceptance is important for religious institutions. “Synagogue is a place where people should feel comfortable and affirmed and not rejected,” he said.
Rabbi Avi Poupko of Congregation Ahavas Achim in Newburyport echoed Goldstein’s sentiment, “It’s easy to say we’re welcoming. The key is you have to be proactive. It’s not enough to say ‘someone is not mean.’ It’s about going up to them when someone walks in the door.”
While the congregation is non-affiliated, Poupko, who grew up in Montreal, is Orthodox. While many mainstream Orthodox organizations oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds, Poupko, who is Canadian, American and Israeli, sees it differently, telling the Journal this is very American – to recognize the distinction between church and state.
“It’s incredibly exciting, a historic moment,” Poupko said of the recent decision. “Any opportunity we take as a country that leads to the integrity of individuals is an incredible moment.”
In the decade since 2003, when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same sex marriage, approval of same sex marriage surged from 32 percent of Americans to a majority, at 53 percent, according to a 2014 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute.
Support among Jewish Americans was stronger than the nation as a whole, according to the report, which found that 83 percent of Jews support same-sex marriage, the highest level of support among any of the religious groups listed.
Immediately following the S.C. decision, Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, said, “Today’s decision is the culmination of an extraordinary civil rights struggle and finally affirms that marriage is a fundamental right for all. Now, same sex couples and our families will be able to enjoy the over one thousand rights, responsibilities and privileges which were previously denied.”
Arline Isaacson takes great pride in the role Boston’s Jewish community played over many years in achieving marriage equality. While there was some opposition, the overwhelming majority of Jewish congregations and organizations were supportive and vocal about that support, she told the Journal.
Isaacson, a political consultant and co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, has been at the forefront of advocating for LGBT rights and marriage equality for more than two decades.
Jonathan Krasner has seen firsthand the shifts in views within the Jewish community — personally and professionally.
As a teen, attending a Modern Orthodox yeshiva high school, the thought of “coming out as gay was inconceivable,” he told the Journal.
Today, Krasner is married to his male partner and they are parents of two children, one of whom attended Cohen Hillel Academy in Marblehead.
“We had a great experience at Cohen Hillel,” Krasner said. “The school was always receptive to any suggestions we had and always made us feel comfortable.
In extensive research on LGBT Jews, Krasner, now an associate professor of Jewish education at Brandeis University, found that gay and lesbian families are often surprised to find that Jewish schools and institutions are accepting and welcoming. This can be remedied with increased outreach and through other measures, such as making non-discrimination policies more prominent.
“This is the reality. If we are interested in being a community that is going to have all the flaps of the tent open, they have to feel they are wanted,” he said.
At Keshet, in addition to the celebration of the Supreme Court decision, Rozensky emphasized there is more work to be done, pointing out that in 29 states an employee can be fired because of sexual orientation. She expressed a concern shared widely among advocates and health care professionals who cite the alarmingly high rate of attempted suicides among transgender people, including young people.
Nonetheless, Rozensky, who lives with her partner in Salem, said she is looking forward to standing under the huppa when she will be married in three months. “Although many obstacles remain in the path of equality, our own celebration will be sweetened knowing it is a right that everyone, in every state, can now enjoy.”