Mar. 29, 2013
Temple Beth Am's congregants and spiritual and lay leaders have actively supported LGBTQ civil rights since 1994.
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Temple Beth Am
- Educate TBA members, the Reform/unaffiliated Jewish community, and the greater community about marriage equality in the context of Jewish values and religious freedom.
- Promote individual and institutional advocacy for marriage equality in the context of a faith community.
- Work with the members of the Jewish Marriage Equality Coalition (JMEC) to maintain a Reform Jewish voice in the campaign for the marriage equality.
Temple Beth Am's congregants and spiritual and lay leaders have actively supported LGBTQ civil rights since 1994. In 2012 our clergy played a leadership role in securing the state Jewish community's support for marriage equality legislation. After the legislation was passed, we joined with other Jewish organizations to form the Jewish Marriage Equality Coalition to defend marriage equality against a referendum challenge at the ballot box.
The idea of significant Jewish involvement in the marriage equality debate in Washington began in the summer of 2011. The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle was the first Jewish Federation in the country to pass a resolution support of marriage equality. This prompted the formation of a Jewish coalition to support the emerging effort. Temple Beth Am, along with eight other Reform congregations, were founding members of the coalition. The Jewish Federation served as the point of contact for the coalition, provided staff support, and helped coordinate congregational level strategy with Washington United for Marriage - the campaign promoting the right to marry for gay and lesbian couples. Under the leadership of the Federation, Temple Beth Am and the other Reform congregations developed, and executed individual plans to educate and mobilize their membership in support of marriage equality legislation and ultimately Referendum 74.
Early in 2012, the Washington state legislature considered a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. Temple Beth Am members signed more than 250 postcards, delivered to their representatives on the opening day of the legislative session, expressing their support for same-sex marriage. Among other things, the bill protected the right of clergy to perform - or not perform - same-sex wedding ceremonies as they saw fit. TBA Rabbi Jonathan Singer, rabbinic representative on the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, was instrumental in persuading key stakeholders of the Federation that they could support the bill as an expression of religious freedom if not as an endorsement of same-sex marriage. Rabbi Singer also traveled to the state capitol in Olympia to testify eloquently in favor of the bill.
TBA was a distribution site for yard signs and buttons, and housed a phone bank two nights a week for the final six weeks of the campaign. We estimate that the in-kind contribution of staff time and facility usage for these and other activities was approximately $2,000 - 2,500. Many TBA members made phone calls, walked precincts, volunteered in the Washington United for Marriage campaign office, and hosted house parties to help raise money and awareness for the campaign. Our members marched in the Seattle Pride Parade in June, carrying signs in support of marriage equality, and in the Faith Ballot March in November. TBA's Youth Director recruited youth group members to march in the Pride Parade by offering community service hours. Most of Temple Beth Am's involvement in this phase of the campaign was as part of the Jewish Marriage Equality Coalition (JMEC). We were among a handful of groups that worked with the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle to convene the JMEC, which eventually grew to 28 organizations, including nine of the seventeen Reform congregations in Washington state.
TBA members were united around marriage equality to a level rarely seen on any topic. Hundreds of members signed pledge cards in support of freedom to marry. Members who had not previously engaged in political activity turned out for phone banks and other volunteer activities. When this victory was mentioned a few days ago during the Freedom Shabbat service as one of the many social justice issues in which TBA members have been involved, there were cheers from the congregation. The successful work of the Jewish Marriage Equality Coalition has paved the way for future cooperation. JMEC members met recently and decided to continue working together on social justice issues, under the new name Jewish Coalition for Justice.
The involvement of faith communities helped to change the tenor of the dialog about marriage equality. For many years the religious right has monopolized faith-based political discussion, and it was relatively rare for religious voices to be raised in support of LGBT rights. The ability to have authentic faith-based conversations about same-sex marriage helped to change many minds and convince voters who had been on the fence that marriage equality was not inconsistent with religious faith. We valued the opportunity for interfaith discussion among supporters of marriage equality. This campaign helped us build bridges and recognize commonalities with other faith traditions.