As the Supreme Court is set to hear oral argument in a case that could radically alter the institution of marriage across the United States, Agudath Israel of America has submitted an “amicus curiae” (friend of the court) brief urging the High Court to preserve the traditional definition of marriage.
The case, Obergefell v. Hodges, involves a constitutional challenge to state laws that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. If the challenge is successful, all states would have to permit and recognize “marriages” between members of the same gender.
“If the Supreme Court rules that the traditional definition of marriage is unconstitutional,” said Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Agudath Israel’s executive vice president, “not only would it accelerate a dangerous social revolution in the broad society around us, it could severely jeopardize the religious liberty and social standing of religious communities like ours that can never accept same-gender ‘marriage’.”
The Agudath Israel brief makes the constitutional case for allowing states to continue defining marriage as the union of man and woman. In addition to emphasizing the moral foundation upon which the traditional definition of marriage rests, the brief points to the salient fact that, as one prominent social scientist has observed, “children are best served when reared in a home with a married mother and father.”
The brief also discusses why a determination that traditional marriage laws are unconstitutional would pose a serious threat to religious liberty. Even in those states that have legislatively expanded the definition of marriage, the brief points out, at the same time they have enacted certain protections for religious dissenters who adhere to the traditional definition – for example, the right of clergy members to refuse as a matter of religious conviction to officiate at same gender “marriages.” In contrast, if the definition of marriage is expanded judicially, the rights of religious dissenters may remain unprotected.
Agudath Israel’s brief was authored by the organization’s general counsel, Rabbi Mordechai Biser, Esq., together with Larry Loigman, Esq., a New Jersey attorney who served as counsel of record. The brief benefited from the research and assistance of law students Joseph Wiener and Mark Kahn.
Commenting on the significance of the Agudath Israel brief, Rabbi Zwiebel bemoaned “the sad fact – the tragic fact! — that ours was the only Jewish voice standing up for traditional marriage. All the other Jewish amicus curiae groups – including the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist groups in a brief submitted jointly with a number of non-Jewish religious groups – came down on the side of same-gender ‘marriage’.”
“It is heartbreaking, ” said the Agudath Israel leader, “to read a sentence in a brief submitted to the Supreme Court stating that ‘the Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Jewish movements allow their rabbis to perform religious wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples.’ How far these groups have strayed, how deeply they have punctured the integrity of Torah Judaism!
“I hope the Supreme Court will recognize the strength of our legal arguments, and reject the constitutional challenge to traditional marriage. Only time will tell. But for one thing we need not wait: getting the message out to the world around us, and especially to the Jewish world around us, that no matter what the falsifiers of Judaism may say, we can never accept the validity of these types of relationships. If our brief accomplishes nothing more than delivering that message, we will already have accomplished a great deal.”
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