Four on Marriage, 4/27/14

    1. A Gesture toward truce in the Culture Wars
    2. What’s wrong with a “throuple”?
    3. Patchwork Quilts and Roll-Up Solutions
    4. Halachically speaking


I don’t get – and only in moments of forced and strenuous paradigm bending have even briefly gotten – the famously persuasive case for gay marriage.

I think it’s important to try to see the other side’s case. I’ve tried and have briefly succeeded. I like my case better. Call me incorrigibly sane.

I’m not writing yet again, though, to defend my incomprehension, but to commend tolerance and to thank 57 (and counting) same-sex marriage supporters for affirming that people like me are not beyond the pale.

One was Jonathan Rauch who goes further at the Daily Beast and affirms that defense of traditional marriage is not the moral equivalent of racist anti-miscegenation laws.

Let me return the favor:

  • Gays and lesbians are not child-molesting monsters.
  • They don’t need to recruit because they can’t reproduce (actually, they can reproduce, but only be performing the marital act with a member of the opposite sex or hiring people in white smocks for an elaborate work-around, which despite the high technology starts with a bit of good old-fashioned Onanism), because 2% or so of the children we non-gays reproduce will turn out gay.
  • Congruent with Simone Weil, the weakness of homosexuality can be turned to good uses. We’re enriched by those good uses and would be culturally impoverished by an anti-gay pogrom (quite apart from what that would do to our souls).
  • I’m happy to leave gays and lesbians alone, to have the police and criminal justice system leave them alone, and to have the police and criminal justice system punish those who assault or batter them, whatever the motivation.

I’m just unwilling to treat their relationships as marriages because, as Rauch admits, marriage has always been gendered (and I don’t see a public benefit from gay sex or gay couple formation that warrants changing that in positive law, natural law being beyond their or my reach to alter).

See this, too.


Robert P. George, about the lesbian Massachusetts “throuple,” asks:

Once one has abandoned belief in marriage as a conjugal bond (with its central structuring norm of sexual complementarity) in favor of a concept of “marriage” as a form of sexual-romantic companionship or domestic partnership (“love makes a family”), then what possible principle could be identified for a norm “restricting” marriage to two-person partnerships, as opposed to polyamorous sexual ensembles of three or more persons?

The answer is “absolutely nothing.” Nobody has been able to devise a limiting principle, and few have even tried. (Rather they dismiss the question with a wave of the hand and a snarl of “bigot!” or “absurd!”)

Of course, there is no need for new slogans, the old ones will do: “freedom to marry,” “marriage equality,” etc. Nor is there a need for new arguments: “How does it harm you or your marriage if the throuple next door are recognized as being “married”?” “Won’t it be better for their kids?” “The more love in the world, the better!” And, of course, there’s the trump card: “Oh, so you think that marriage is the union of two and only two people? Aha! You are a bigot! You had better get on the right side of history! And in the meantime don’t even think about applying for a job at Mozilla.”

Details here.


The best argument I think I’ve heard for same-sex marriage, by the way, is that it rolls up a whole slew of grievances and solves them with one positive law re-labeling.

Many of those grievances, assuming the sorts of things complained of are not hypothetical (denials of hospital visits to one’s partner, for instance),  are legitimate, most sensible people would agree.

But here’s the rub. Justice to the dissenters after a roll-up and re-labeling, especially to those motivated by religion or philosophical convictions equivalent to religion, will require either a patchwork quilt of protections of its own or its own sweeping omnibus religious freedom bill so that “live and let live” is something more than a sardonic joke.

I’d much prefer to leave marriage alone, letting private arrangements or targeted legislation deal with any legitimate gay grievances, than to imperil religious freedom.


 A gay Orthodox Jewish man writes in the Times of Israel about the vitriol and blowback he has gotten. His comments are powerful – not as incitements to throw him a pity party, but as Jewish versions of perfectly sound and ecumenical precepts:

In the 1990s, a widespread gay Jewish attitude toward Leviticus 18:22 (usually translated as “you shall not lie down with a male, as with a woman: this is an abomination”) was so pathetic it seems funny today: liberal Rabbi Arthur Waskow interpreted the verse to mean, essentially: “Don’t have sex with a man as with a woman. Have sex with a man as with a man!”<

I understand that the very existence of celibate gays undermines the arguments portraying tolerance of gay sex as the only legitimate Torah-based response to homosexuality. But that doesn’t warrant degrading people who diligently try to follow traditional halachic requirements – it just calls for better arguments.

The people with the most ignorant, spiteful ideas about homosexuality typically think they don’t know anyone gay. Shouldn’t those espousing more progressive Orthodox positions on homosexuality get to know celibate gay Orthodox Jews before denouncing our decisions as non-viable? I contacted Rabbi Yanklowitz after his essay appeared, and I told him that if, as I suspected, he knew no gays observing halacha on sexual behavior, I would be happy to be his first. He ignored my offer, and instead apologized “if” he had “offended” me.

[T]he frum [Orthodox] men with the most intense biological drives – those in their teens and early twenties – are precisely the ones we expect to completely repress their sexualities for years. For gay men, eschewing intercourse is much more achievable (and consistent with Torah values) than developing a genuine heterosexual orientation.

While I don’t think being gay is a choice, I’m not 100 percent sure God actually “makes” people gay, either. Being gay could be some combination of biological composition, social and cultural environment, and a bunch of little decisions along life’s course.

And Rabbi Greenberg warned that “if a 16-year-old wants to know what God wants of her or him, and the answer we provide is lifelong celibacy and shame, that’s a formula for self-destructive behavior. It’s just not a credible response.”

Now, this subject is quite touchy, and I don’t want to be misinterpreted. But suicide seems to be the trump card advocates of Orthodox change on homosexuality play when they’re losing the debate or just want to close the deal.
Of course it’s terrible when someone experiences any sort of depression, self-loathing, or life-threatening behavior …

But in the context of reasoned debate about Orthodox approaches to homosexuality, stressing that gays can and do take their own lives is dirty pool. >When gay people make that case, on some level they’re threatening, “Give me what I want, or I’ll kill myself.” Worse, when straight people bring up gay suicide, it can come across as patronizing and homophobic. Yes, there is too much gay teen suicide, but is that evidence gays are so weak-willed and pathetic that an explicit Torah command must be abrogated to spare our delicate sensitivities?

Here’s my message for frum gay men:

For men like us, following Jewish law about sexuality is an enormous struggle which often takes place without much sympathy or support. God loves us even when we cannot understand why He would limit our sexual options. Ideally, we’ll never have any sort of intimate contact with other men. But any exceptions should be as infrequent as possible, with as few halachic violations as possible. Be especially careful to avoid mishkav zachar. The process of teshuvah exists precisely so people in such situations can pick themselves up, rectify their behavior, and move on. Take advantage of it.

By contrast, Rabbi Greenberg says he tells young gay men looking for halachic advice that “if you find a committed monogamous partner and avoid anal intercourse, you are better off halachically speaking than all the Orthodox Jews you know who do not keep the niddah (menstrual purity) laws.”

Rabbi Greenberg’s comment probably refers to the d’rabbanan (rabbinic) prohibition of non-mishkav zachar gay bedroom activities, as opposed to the d’oreita (written Torah) prohibition of sex with a woman during niddah. But no man makes niddah sex a public lifestyle, with a self-satisfied “Tum’at Hamishpacha” (“Family Impurity”) identity, beaming with pride as he parades his aveirot through the streets of New York City with his significant other – which Rabbi Greenberg has in fact done.

* * * * *

“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.