The Movement for Reform Judaism have declared their support for same-sex marriage in the UK. They are the largest British faith group so far to back the move, which has divided both religious and secular opinion.
Same-sex marriage already has the support of the smaller group Liberal Judaism, along with the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), the Metropolitan Community Church and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches. There are supporters of marriage equality within most other faith groups.
The Reform Jews’ comments follow calls from Roman Catholic leaders to oppose plans by the governments in London and Edinburgh to give legal recognition to same-sex marriage.
A number of grassroots Catholics, along with other Christians, have criticised their leaders’ comments and expressed support for same-sex marriage.
The Movement for Reform Judaism, which represents around a fifth of affiliated British Jews, have conducted same-sex commitment ceremonies since February 2011.
“We are focused on what constitutes good Jewish relationships,” said Rabbi Colin Eimer, who chaired the Reform Jews’ working group on the issue.
He added, “Religious ceremonies exist in Jewish life for heterosexual couples to express their love, commitment, values and ideals. We believe that homosexual couples should have that same opportunity for a religious ceremony within the sanctity of Jewish community, tradition and practice."
Equality will strengthen society and the institution of marriage, according to Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner. She insisted that “same-sex partnerships based on the same stability, faithfulness, love and mutual support as heterosexual relationships should be seen as fully equal in the eyes of the law."
The beliefs and values thinktank Ekklesia drew attention to the Reform Jews’ position in the context of recent controversies over the nature of marriage.
“It would be a mistake to portray the same-sex marriage debate as a controversy that has religious groups on one side and secular human rights campaigners on the other,” said Ekklesia’s associate director, Symon Hill. He added, “There are religious groups and religious individuals on both sides of the question.”
The UK government has promised to introduce same-sex civil marriage in England and Wales by 2015, but has ruled out giving legal recognition to same-sex religious marriage. The Scottish government is consulting on the way forward and is thought likely to move more quickly.
No group is calling for religious groups to be forced to carry out ceremonies that they do not believe in.
Ekklesia want to see a thorough overhaul of marriage law to reflect the diversity of beliefs and relationships in a plural society. This would allow people to hold ceremonies that had personal, social and (if important to them) religious meaning, with legal registration being a separate process.
Hill added, “This would allow faith groups to hold same-sex marriage ceremonies if they wish to do so, without forcing them to do so if they do not. People of all views would be free to promote them and seek to persuade others. But they would not be able to demand that the law favours their own position.”