We are all constantly bombarded with election season messages these days.
Political advertisements and appeals leap at us from buses, newspapers and magazines, computer screens and smart phones. In this election cycle, the expressions of good old American free speech are even more intense. One place that should be free of that constant barrage is the lawn of a religious institution.
Several weeks ago, driving down Park Heights Avenue, thousands in Baltimore’s sizable Jewish community — along with their non-Jewish neighbors — experienced a shock. Large placards declaring public support for the gay marriage proposal on Maryland’s Nov. 6 ballot were prominently displayed on the lawns of two Reform temples. In the name of what they see as marriage equality and fairness, these Jewish institutions were visibly advocating gay marriage.
The sight of those placards was profoundly disturbing to us as Jews. The Torah — the basis of Jewish law — takes an unambiguous stance in opposition to such unions. So we saw these public proclamations of support for Question 6 as a misrepresentation of the centuries-old Jewish view.
Our own views were clearly set forth when the Rabbinical Council of Greater Baltimore — Vaad HaRabbanim — announced its opposition to the Civil Marriage Protection Act and urged members of the community to vote “no” on Maryland’s Question 6 next month.
That is what we have to say on the subject. But we won’t display our views on street corners. We’ll express them the only place where they really count — at the ballot box.
As rabbis of congregations also occupying prominent real estate on Park Heights Avenue, we considered the obvious option of responding by erecting our own placards in opposition to the gay marriage bill. After all, we asked ourselves, how can the public square be left with a misleading and false impression regarding Judaism’s view on this matter? Nevertheless, and despite our deep conviction that Judaism cannot possibly support gay marriage, we declined to erect competing lawn signs.
Quite simply, we believe a synagogue lawn is not the place for election placards. While the IRS may only preclude tax-exempt institutions from advocating for specific candidates, it seems hardly appropriate to use the grounds of a facility built and used for the sacred purposes of prayer, religious study and community for election-season statements — on any issue.
Additionally, we work hard to maintain a level of purity and innocence among young and old in our community. We have benefited greatly from both limiting our exposure to the increasingly suggestive media and from resisting participation in the ongoing sexual revolution. While not wholly successful, these efforts have resulted in drastically lower divorce rates, cultural rejection of premarital sex, negligible incidence of teen pregnancy, and a generally stronger and healthier family structure. In line with these efforts as well, we do not wish to flood our synagogue or neighborhood environment with public placards debating Question 6.
Make no mistake. As rabbis, we are firmly opposed to gay marriage. Our opposition is not because we are opposed to fairness, nor because of a lack of sympathy for individuals with a homosexual orientation. We are opposed because of our desire to reflect the values of Torah with regard to sexual morality, and to maintain the health and integrity of the institution of marriage as the fundamental building block of a healthy society. We will vote NO on question 6. But our votes will be cast in the ballot box, not on our synagogues’ front lawns.