Rabbi Saperstein: "It is unconscionable discrimination for the government to deny the benefits and rights that all loving, committed couples deserve equally under law."
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WASHINGTON, D.C., May 18, 2011 -- Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, this week sent a letter urging Congress to take action to end marriage discrimination under DOMA by passing the Respect for Marriage Act. The full text of the letter follows:
Dear Member of Congress:
On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which includes over 1800 Reform rabbis, I write to express our strong support for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act through the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act (S. 598/H.R. 1116).
Passed in 1996, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defines marriage under federal law as "only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife." This targets gays and lesbians for discrimination by denying legally married same-sex couples all of the federal benefits and protections that married couples enjoy. DOMA also provides that states, which routinely recognize marriages from other states, may make an exception for same-sex couples, violating the Equal Protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment. Every day, DOMA denies over 1,000 protections and benefits to tens of thousands of Americans in legally recognized same-sex marriages. These federal protections of marriage include Social Security survivors' benefits, family and medical leave, equal compensation as federal employees, and immigration rights, among others. DOMA is unconstitutional, and has caused untold hardship and hurt to gay and lesbian Americans.
The holdings of any religious tradition should never set the bounds of government defined marriage, as the Defense of Marriage Act does. As the purveyor of civil marriage, government should embrace an inclusive definition of marriage that establishes equality for all couples, regardless of the sex of the people involved. It is unconscionable discrimination for the government to deny the benefits and rights that all loving, committed couples deserve equally under law.
The Respect for Marriage Act would end DOMA's injustice by repealing it in its entirety. We applaud the decision of President Obama and Attorney General Holder to no longer defend Section 3 of DOMA in courts, and to consider any law that discriminates based on sexual orientation under "heightened scrutiny," where the discrimination must be "substantially" related to an "important" government interest. This is the first recognition by the United States government that gays and lesbians have suffered a long history of discrimination that makes constitutionally suspect any laws that treat people differently based on sexual orientation.
Jewish tradition teaches, "And God created humans in God's own image, in the image of God, God created them; male and female God created them." (Genesis 1:27) We oppose discrimination against all individuals, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender men and women, for the stamp of the divine is imprinted on the souls of each and every one of us. As Jews, we have been among the quintessential victims of group hatred, persecution, and discrimination. We feel a keen empathy for those who can still be victimized, deprived of opportunities, jobs, or advancement because of their identity.
We urge you to support the Respect for Marriage Act, and to oppose any floor amendments or motions that would undermine its protections or its fully inclusive nature.
Rabbi David Saperstein
Director and Counsel, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism