This blog is the fourth in a series from Rabbis Organizing Rabbis connecting the period of the Omer to the issue of race and class structural inequality. Rabbis Organizing Rabbis is a joint project of the CCAR’s Peace & Justice Committee, the URJ’s Just Congregations, and the Religious Action Center.
As we count the Omer this year in anticipation of receiving Torah, I am also counting the days in anticipation of a Supreme Court hearing on Marriage Equality to take place on April 28, 2015 and then sometime in June when the Supreme Court will likely rule on whether or not there is a right to marry in many of the states that have objected such as Alabama, Michigan, Tennessee and others. As a long time Marriage Equality advocate I remember the happy summer of love in 2008 in California when I officiated at over 60 Jewish weddings between June 16, 2008 including the first legal wedding between plaintiffs in our California case, Robin Tyler and Diane Olsen. But on November 4, 2008 it was over as a majority of Californians had gone to the polls to elect Barack Obama on the one hand but pass the notorious Proposition 8 which took away the equal right to marry from Californians. As I stood on a stage in Hollywood that night at an election rally bubbling from Obama’s big California win, I had to comfort a community that had been sucker punched by an unholy alliance between the Catholic Bishops and Mormon Bishops in Utah and California. More than 40 million dollars had been spent to demonize LGBTQ people and their families once again. It was the most expensive proposition race ever.
The next days and weeks were spent at rallies and protest marches. I worked vigorously both in front and behind the scenes. On the night after the election during a big rally in the city where I serve as rabbi, we began passing buckets to raise money to take this back to the courts. My congregation turned out in droves as did many in the Reform Jewish community who were stunned by the results. I climbed on to the back of a truck that led the protesters through West Hollywood and back down Sunset Blvd. as my fellow activists and I took turns at the bullhorn.
The next night of protests one of the gay community leaders suggested a march on the Mormon Temple the next day. I knew this would be bad from the start. As she led the marchers the next day down Santa Monica Blvd from West Hollywood to Los Angeles’ Mormon Temple you could feel the tension in the crowd and in the LAPD. Traffic was completely snarled during rush hour-never a good thing in Los Angeles and those caught in the standstill were angry that they couldn’t get where they were going. That’s when scuffles began between drivers who got out of their cars and protesters. More than one bloody fight took place. As the marchers turned toward the Mormon temple, my good friend and interfaith partner, Rev. Neil Thomas and I ended up guarding the Mormon Stake behind their Temple. The protesters were beginning to rush the doors. It was Rev. Thomas and I that stood between the protesters and the Mormons. Luckily the protestors listened to us, kept to the sidewalk, remained calm and kept moving.
There are so many more stories to tell of that time. But now this many years later I give thanks that marriage equality is legal in more than 33 states. And so I am counting down the days-not only to receiving Torah at Sinai once again but toward Tuesday, April 28 when the case for marriage equality heads back to the Supreme Court. Hopefully, it will be a positive resolution nationwide where marriage equality will be the law of the land everywhere.
The work of justice will not be done though. As long as you can still be fired for being married to someone of the same gender, as long as there are no protections in housing or education for LGBTQ individuals the work of equality and justice is not done. And so I will still be counting in anticipation of that day and counting on all of you to help make that a reality.
Rabbis Organizing Rabbis is project of the Reform Movement’s social justice initiatives: the CCAR’s Committee on Peace, Justice and Civil Liberties, the Religious Action Center, and Just Congregations.
Rabbi Denise L. Eger is the founding Rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami and the President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.