For Rabbi Elliot Dorff, the gay issue being grappled with by the Conservative movement has hit home: literally.
During the debate over leadership roles for gays and lesbians a decade ago, Rabbi Dorff, an authority on bioethics and incoming chair of the Conservative movement’s law committee, took a moderate stand. A "consensus statement," essentially drawn from a religious opinion paper he wrote, was intended as a temporary measure until a committee on human sexuality, which he headed, could conclude taking a broader look at relevant issues. It finished its work in 1994. Then, he says, the issue of gays in the Conservative movement was supposed to be reconsidered.
The consensus statement prohibits commitment ceremonies and openly gays and lesbians from becoming Conservative rabbis and cantors.
But personal experience since then, he says, has altered his view.
Working as an ethicist in Los Angeles’ AIDS community has led him to conclude that encouraging people to stay in monogamous relationships (even if they are both the same gender, and doing so would entail a commitment ceremony) is a life-saving imperative.
"Marriage for heterosexuals is a way in which society encourages monogamy. If we don’t have a similar public event for gays and lesbians and we look down our noses at them for being promiscuous, we in the heterosexual community are just being duplicitous," he said.
More personal family developments pushed his thinking even further.
After the law committee ended its debate, his daughter Tammy, now 34 and a clinical psychologist, came out as a lesbian.
"People my wife and I have met in the intervening 10 years have only reinforced my feeling that this is not a matter of choice, and that gays and lesbians who want to be traditional Jews and are at least as moral as straights are, ought to be welcomed," he said.
The current policy "forces gays and lesbians to be in the closet while they’re in rabbinical school, and I don’t think that’s the way a religious institution should interact with its students, by forcing them to lie," Rabbi Dorff said. "I think there are halachic grounds for changing it."