According to two rabbis, New Jersey’s recent court decision in favor of gay unions will not significantly impact Orthodox voters still on the fence between neck-and-neck Senate contenders Bob Menendez and Tom Kean, Jr.
“This is not one of the major issues that people have been talking about,” said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood. “People are very preoccupied with Israeli security … with the effect of the war in Iraq … the Iranian threat … and their own personal issue of the economy.”
In the ultra-Orthodox community of Lakewood, Rabbi Moshe Zev Weisberg agreed. Weisberg, who is a member of the community’s Va’ad, or leadership council, said the group plans to issue an endorsement in the New Jersey Senate race by the end of Friday. But he did not expect the same-sex ruling to be a factor in the decision.
“The Torah observant portion of the Jewish community may have an opinion on it,” Weisberg said, but “I don’t know that it’s going to impact the Jewish community in any way.”
According to constitutional observers, including Marc Stern of the American Jewish Congress, that is not entirely correct.
Legalized same-sex marriage, particularly when coupled with anti-discrimation laws of the sort already passed in New Jersey, actually presents a host of interesting constitutional questions beyond the unions themselves.
For example, could an Orthodox day school in New Jersey refuse to pay for the medical benefits of the spouse of a gay or lesbian maintenance worker?
New Jersey has already outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation. But before the same-sex ruling, the Orthodox school might have been able to argue that the gay worker was not similarly situated to a straight, legally married maintenance worker, according to Stern.
After gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts, Catholic Charities of Boston was told that their adoption placement service, being licensed by the state, could not discriminate against same-sex couples, a decision that caused the group to close the program.
The New Jersey Supreme Court has tasked the state legislature with working out some of the specifics of its ruling, including whether the unions would be called something like “civil unions” or considered “marriages” like any other.
It is unclear whether conservative religious groups also will attempt to push the legislature to adopt specific exemptions for sectarian organizations. If so, it is possible that liberal and conservative Jewish groups will find themselves increasingly at odds.
Officials at the National Council of Jewish Women, which signed an amicus brief supporting same-sex unions in New Jersey, said that the broader anti-discrimination impacts are part of the point of the ruling.
“We believe that there should be no discimination based on sexual orientation, just like there should not be any racial or religious discrimination,” said Sammie Moshenberg, the group’s director of Washington operations.