As we move toward Sh’mini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, we begin to pray for rain. We change from morid hatal to mashiv haruach umorid hagashem. So this is a good time to recall that other outpouring called for by the prophet Amos: v’yigal kamayim mishpat utz’dakah k’nachal eitan, let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Just before Shabbat, justice and righteousness began to roll down in North Carolina. Earlier this year, the CCAR and several of our North Carolina colleagues joined in a litigation to challenge Amendment One, the prohibition on same sex marriage in the state. Several other colleagues wanted to join but could not do so for technical legal reasons. The challenge had two elements. First, it claimed that the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution barred a state law that prohibited same sex couples from marrying. Second, it claimed that, even if that ban was otherwise constitutional, it ran afoul of the First Amendment, in that it threatened clergy who performed religious-only same sex marriages with civil penalties.
Last week, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that overturned Virginia’s ban on same sex marriage on Fourteenth Amendment grounds. Because the Fourth Circuit also covers North Carolina, that meant that, as Daniel would have understood, the handwriting was on the wall.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn, who was hearing our case, ruled that Amendment One violated the Fourteenth Amendment and had to be struck down. This meant that he never had to decide the First Amendment claim. It also meant that starting Friday in some North Carolina counties, and Monday in others, registrars began to issue licenses for same sex couples to marry, and marriage ceremonies started to take place. Yesterday, another federal judge in North Carolina came to the same conclusion in another case. Marriage equality in North Carolina is now a reality.
I used to practice law and serve as the amicus brief coordinator for the CCAR. This meant that I had the privilege of being involved in our decision to take part in this case. When I read Judge Cogburn’s ruling, I felt pride that our CCAR leadership and our courageous rabbis helped bring about this change for the better. The attorneys in this case donated their time, and I felt gratitude for them. And as I read of couples finally being able to marry, I sensed the rush of righteousness all the way from North Carolina to my home in Massachusetts. May we continue to be inundated with it as we pray for rain at this season.
Rabbi Thomas Alpert serves Temple Etz Chaim in Franklin, MA. He was ordained from the New York campus of the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in 2000 after a previous career as a lawyer.