Deconstructing Rabbi Shira’s speech

Stephen Richer is a co-founder and director of Gather the Jews.  The comments in this piece reflect solely his views.

The “6th in the City Shabbat” is always a blast.  I love singing along with the guitar of Rick Recht and his volunteer vocalists (including former Jewish Girl of the Week Erika), and I love jumping up for the super-soft-and-delicious challah at the end of services.

There’s also Rabbi Shira Stutman’s comments on world events and/or the Torah portion.  They’re always inspired, and I often nod in agreement.  When I disagree, I usually don’t say anything, but this time I have to scratch the itch.

On Friday, June 10, Rabbi Stutman offered an impassioned speech on gay rights: it’s lamentable that certain members of our society are still treated unequally under the law.  I couldn’t agree more – equality under the law is long overdue for gay Americans.  I also agree with Rabbi Stutman that we Jews should help advance the effort, and I salute her for joining the Pride march on Shabbat.

But Rabbi Stutman also quickly referenced the right to affordable health care when speaking about gay rights, as if the two are commensurate.  They’re not.

The gay rights movement is multi-faceted, but gay marriage has certainly become the focal point.  The argument here is that gay people should be treated as equals under the law – they should be able to celebrate marriage just like any other freely contracting adults.  And we me mean true quality under the law – equal in name and function (the civil unions argument is nonsense).

An analogous situation for health care would be if we systematically prohibited certain people from purchasing health care.  If redheads (I’m one) were legally prohibited from buying health care simply as a result of their being genetically different, then we would have a parallel situation to gay marriage.

But that’s not what is meant by those who argue for the “right to affordable health care.”  This argument posits that it is not enough for law to allow all citizens the right to purchase health care (which we currently have), but rather, we should make sure that all citizens have the means, in addition to the legal right, to buy health care.

Say what you will about the merits of that argument, but it is not analogous to the gay marriage movement.  For it to be comparable the battle for gay rights would have to look like this:  Not only must we remove the legal prohibition against gays marrying, but we must also provide incapable gays with the means of doing so.  Those gays who are socially handicapped – and therefore lack the skills of wooing a spouse – should be provided with classes on social interaction such that all people can acquire a marriage certificate.

The two cases are clearly not the same, and I daresay the comparison cheapens the plight of gays ever so slightly.  Gays are, by law, prohibited from marriage.  There is not one group in the country that is, by law, prohibited from buying health care.