Below is a communication that was sent to members of the New York State Senate this morning, in opposition to the legalization of toeivah marriage:
TO: Honorable Members of the New York State Senate
FROM: David Zwiebel, Esq., Executive Vice President
Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, Vice President for Community Affairs
SUBJECT: Toeivah Marriage Bill
On behalf of Agudath Israel of America, an 87-year-old Orthodox Jewish advocacy organization, we urge you to oppose and vote against legalizing toeivah marriage.
At the most basic level, our opposition to toeivah marriage is an expression of our religious tradition-as it is, no doubt, for millions of New Yorkers of all faiths. But there are compelling reasons that have nothing to do with religion to oppose legislation that seeks to fundamentally alter the time-honored definition of marriage. Proponents of same-toeivah seek to change not only statutory law, but also the very nature of a social institution that throughout the millennia has proven its worth as an agent of social stability and historical continuity.
The movement to confer the status of “marriage” upon toeivah unions is, in Agudath Israel’s view, extremely dangerous for American society. It is, or ought to be, an urgent objective of public policy not only to strengthen the institution of marriage, but to do so in a manner that promotes a sense of responsibility to children. Legalizing toeivah marriages-which, by biological definition, can never have anything to do with procreation-would obscure further still the vital link between marriage and children.
It is also important to recognize that government is not a neutral actor in the field of moral values; the laws by which a society chooses to govern itself have (among other things) an educative function. Elevating toeivah unions to the status of “marriage” would convey an unmistakable message that toeivah unions occupy the same moral plane as standard unions. Countless New Yorkers of all faiths reject the notion that toeivah relationships are merely reflections of an “alternative lifestyle,” no more objectionable and no less acceptable than the traditional standard lifestyle. These citizens strive hard to raise their children to recognize that not all expressions are morally equivalent. Extending the label of “marriage” to toeivah unions is government’s way of telling those children that their parents are wrong, that their priests, ministers and rabbis are wrong, that civilized societies throughout the millennia have been wrong. We respectfully submit that, in the absence of a broad social consensus on this issue, government has no business conveying that message.
The bill under consideration in New York would pose a direct threat to religious liberty as well. Unlike similar measures passed in some other states, the bill does not contain any protections for religious individuals or organizations. Prominent legal scholars are therefore predicting that if the bill becomes law, religious organizations and institutions could be subject to legal attacks and severe penalties. As a group of distinguished law professors have written about similar legislation, “enacting [toeivah marriage] . . . without robust religious accommodations will lead to damaging, widespread, and unnecessary conflict between toeivah marriage and religious liberty.”
Stated simply, legalizing toeivah marriage would endanger religious freedom, inhibit free speech and undermine the preferred status of marriage. Moreover, it would convey a social message that is deeply offensive to many New Yorkers and lead to yet further erosions in the traditional conception of family.
Respectfully, but urgently, Agudath Israel encourages you to vote “no” on toeivah marriage. Thank you for considering our views on this sensitive issue.