If you’re anything like me, you check the news often (probably too often), and on this past Monday, you probably saw headlines saying, “Supreme Court rules for Colorado baker in same-sex wedding cake case,” or “Supreme Court rules narrowly for Colorado baker who wouldn’t make same-sex wedding cake.” While my initial reaction was to be heartbroken by this verdict, upon reading about it through the perspective of organizations that work for LGBTQ rights, I realized that while this wasn’t the victory we had hoped for, it was hardly a loss either. It all came down to those two words: “ruled narrowly.”
These words were a poor choice for a headline because it confused many into thinking that the “narrow” ruling meant the vote, which was actually 7-2. Members of the GOP and its allies, including Senator Ted Cruz, Representative Jeff Duncan, Fox News’ Bill Hemmer, and even Donald Trump Jr., cried “fake news” and “progressive bias,” thinking that the newspapers were attempting to make a 7-2 vote (which is certainly a wide margin) appear “narrow.” This, of course, was not so.
As NBC News rightly reported, “The ruling that Colorado violated the rights of a man who refused to bake a cake for customers based on their sexual orientation has explicitly limited applicability, and was based on the peculiarities of the case,” and that “It is possible that this decision was a result of an unusual set of facts and will not have a great deal of significance going forward.” In other words, as CNBC reported later, “The vote was narrow not because of the number of justices for and against, but because of the slim precedent it sets.”
In response to this decision, Chad Griffin, President of the Human Rights Campaign, stated, “In today’s narrow ruling against the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court acknowledged that LGBTQ people are equal and have a right to live free from the indignity of discrimination. Anti-LGBTQ extremists did not win the sweeping ‘license to discriminate’ they have been hoping for — and today’s ruling does not change our nation’s longstanding civil rights laws.”
This was true, and thus caused confusion, celebration, and concern throughout all facets of America. I found it upsetting and, frankly, dangerous that many of our lawmakers, children of our president, and news anchors were unaware (or appeared to be unaware) that a “narrow” ruling means that the scope of the ruling itself was narrow, not the vote. And, I found it more disturbing that Senators such as Ted Cruz were happy to perpetuate this misidentification (leaving his Tweet up long after the situation had been clarified) for political points.
However, what was most important, and what we should truly be focusing on this week, is what Chad Griffin added in his statement after the ruling, which was the truth about where we, as a country, stand regarding LGBTQ equality:
The fact remains that LGBTQ people face alarming levels of discrimination all across the country and HRC’s efforts to advance equality are as urgent as ever. With LGBTQ people at risk of being fired, evicted or denied services in 31 states, HRC continues to build momentum for the Equality Act, to elect pro-equality candidates up and down the ballot, and to fight in every corner of our country to advance policies that protect LGBTQ people from being targeted for who they are or whom they love.
As you may have read in the June bulletin, this month is Pride Month throughout the country–a month to give thought to the LGBTQ community and its allies regarding exactly what Chad Griffin spoke about. While we can often celebrate small victories, there is still so much further to go in the fight against LGBTQ discrimination. Unlike the majority of other denominations in Judaism and Christianity, Reform Judaism has been clear on where it stands on this issue since the 1960s. Indeed, the religious governing bodies of Reform Judaism, including the Union for Reform Judaism, the Religious Action Center, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, have stood united in advocating for the LGBTQ community, passing resolutions allowing and encouraging Reform rabbis to create beautiful commitment ceremonies and same-sex marriage ceremonies, as well as making public statements condemning any governmental discrimination. There are few religious leaders, other than Reform rabbis, who can speak freely from the pulpit regarding the fight for LGBTQ marriage equality without the fear of backlash. Indeed, many of my Christian colleagues have let me know, privately, that they are jealous that they cannot say what they truly believe, because their denomination is “wishy-washy,” or “vague.”
It is in this spirit, then, that I announce with great joy that Temple Israel will be joining with hundreds of Reform synagogues around the country to hold what is known as a Pride Shabbat. Holding a Pride Shabbat worship service is, as the Religious Action Center states, “an excellent way to honor the movement for LGBTQ equality and inclusion, to celebrate recent victories against discrimination, and to commit to the work ahead.” Our Pride Shabbat, which will include selected readings and liturgy, as well as an LGBTQ focused sermon, will take place on Friday evening, June 29th, at 7:30pm. I invite all of you, and your guests, to come and bask in the joy of Shabbat knowing that Temple Israel, like every Reform synagogue, is a safe place, free of discrimination, free of prejudice, and openly supportive of the LGBTQ community and its allies. Happy Pride Month!