This week, the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island took a leading role in making Rhode Island history. After publishing the following statement, and after have a number of Board of Rabbis members, myself included, having testified at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing a few weeks ago, and following up with e-mails, we have succeeded in making it clear that there is visionary, compassionate and religiously committed spiritual leadership in Rhode Island.
We stood with an impressive number of other faith leaders and organizations around the state including the Rhode Island State Council of Churches. At a meeting at Gloria Dei Church in Providence, a few weeks ago, my colleague, Rabbi Peter Stein, reported that a room full of marriage equality activists from all over the Rhode Island faith map stood and cheered at the mention of the Board of Rabbis role in this effort.
It has been a consistent principle in our statement and in interviews I have subsequently held, to emphasize that there must never be any judgment towards colleagues whose theological commitments do not include the embrace of same sex marriage. This made the testimony of Rabbi Barry Dolinger of Congregation Beth Shalom in Providence all the more impressive. Rabbi Dolinger is also an attorney. He stood before the Senate Judiciary Committee and explained that he supports the civil institution of same sex marriage precisely under the conditions of the current legislation because there is no coercion of any clergy to officiate at such unions should their theological commitments dictate otherwise.
I am proud to share with you the words of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island:
Statement in support of Marriage Equality in Rhode Island
The Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island, representing different movements and practices, endorses the idea that the right of civil marriage should be available to all Rhode Islanders.
Our support of full civil marriage rights for same-sex couples rests on two key principles. First, lessons from Jewish history provide us with a mandate to work for civil rights. We understand the right of same-sex couples and their families to enjoy liberty and equal justice under law as a civil right. Married couples receive many federal and state-level legal protections, benefits and responsibilities with a civil marriage. Recognition by the State of Rhode Island of the right of same-sex couples to marry would provide access to such fundamental family and financial rights.
Second, is the clear distinction American law makes between civil and religious marriage. Legal recognition of same sex civil marriage should not and will not require clergy of any faith or denomination to officiate at or recognize the religious status of same-sex marriages. This is consistent with our understanding of the separation between church and state. This liberty is in keeping with Roger Williams’ vision for religious freedom that is pivotal to our state's identity
As rabbis we believe that every human being is created in the image of God; thus, it is our obligation to defend vigorously the dignity of and respect for every human being and every loving couple. For all the reasons stated above, the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island supports the legislation proposed to the Rhode Island General Assembly providing marriage equality in Rhode Island.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.