Well, California Proposition 8 failed. Put differently, the constitution of the state was amended so that gays and lesbians have been stripped of their right to marry there.
A significant player in the "Yes on 8" - that is, the anti-gay marriage side - was the Mormon Church. I read an article on the National Review's website (they supported Prop 8) arguing that the very strong criticism by Prop 8 opponents targeting the Church amounted to bigotry.
Nonsense. It is the religiously motivated backers of anti-gay legislation who are the bigots. Pointing out their support for laws designed to deny right to gay people is not bigotry. A religious minority that acts hatefully is not immune from criticism just because it is a minority.
What's the Jewish perspective on this? There are two Jewish perspectives. There's the confused and shortsighted view and then there's, well, mine and that of other forward thinking Jews.
The confused view, endorsed by people like Rabbi Avi Shafran of Agudath Israel, is that the Torah prohibits homosexuality and therefore state constitutions should outlaw gay marriage. Shafran is, of course, entitled to his view of the Torah. If people want to view those parts of an ancient text, written by an ancient people in an entirely different culture, that dehumanize a group of people that is now more fully understood, as authoritative, that is their right. But we don't have to take those arguments seriously as we make social policy - and in fact we have an obligation to fight against the appearance of such arguments in the public square.
Shafran confuses Torah and secular law. Yes, the Torah prohibits certain homosexual acts but it does not follow that the state should use that as a guide in making laws. Would this not be a ludicrous country of we made secular laws based on the multiplicity of religious tradtions within it?
Why is this shortsighted of Shafran and his ilk? Do Jews, roughly 2% of the population of this country, really want to be in the business of encouraging people to use religious texts to make social policy? Haven't we been here before? Didn't our ancestors suffer under monarchies whose power and policies were justified based on their acceptance of Christian law and Church authority? And in an environment in which Christian fundamentalism is still burning strong (yes, weakened by the last election, but not for ever) do Jews seriously want to use the same mindset and tactics they employ?
The state accepts and permits all kinds of behaviors that the Torah would prohibit. If we accept his reasoning, we would be outlawing all kinds of acts that are currently legal, such as seething a kid in its mother's milk, blasphemy, and idolatry. Do Shafran and other biblically-motivated cultural watchdogs hope to use the power of the state to prohibit these?
When a religious leader puts forth such arguments, we needn't demonstrate respect for their piety; neither must we avoid criticism of them because of their status as leaders of religious minorities. The proper response is to call a spade a spade.
So, Rabbi Shafran: you are ridiculous. Your confused and self-defeating arguments have no place in a modern democracy. People such as yourself use the veil of religion to hide the absurdity of the claims they make in the public realm.
Again, to be clear: you are not simply wrong - you are ridiculous. Californian's were having a serious debate about social policy affecting millions of people, and you based your arguments upon the laws in the Torah. (One imagines that Shafran's response would be that his arguments are based upon the so-called Noahide laws that the Torah sets forth for all humanity, as opposed to other laws intended to govern only Jews).
Public policy in heterogeneous democracies must be made based on rational and secular claims. Not because the secular is more authoritative than the religious but because secular rationality is a discourse that can be used by people of diverse backgrounds. I don't try to convince a fellow American who is an atheist that poverty is unacceptable on the grounds that the Prophet Isaiah decries injustice; I may take my inspiration from Isaiah, but my arguments must be grounded in reason.
How can any Jew be so shortsighted as to think that using religious claims to pass laws meddling in the lives of other citizens is a good idea?
The proper Jewish view on the matter of Proposition 8 is that the proposition was wrong and should have been defeated. Let religious communities police themselves, and make their own arguments to their own people. Let the state establish a basic equality for all citizens. This is, in short, good for the Jews.