Is it a coincidence that today the United States Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA) on the same day that Jews meditate upon the divine quality of "Love within Love"? Is there some meaning to the fact that, while the justices consider the U.S. Constitution's promise of equal protection, Jews are celebrating freedom from oppression? Perhaps it is a coincidence, but you have to admit that it is a darn interesting one.
To my limited understanding, DOMA is unconstitutional as it serves no compelling public interest apart from depriving some people of a basic civil right. The Court has ruled innumerable times that government cannot deny benefits or place burdens on a group of people unless there is a compelling or overriding government objective. Gay and lesbian Americans cannot be deprived of the benefits of civil marriage for the same reason that Black Americans cannot be denied the right to vote and Jewish Americans cannot be deprived of the right to hold public office.
Yet, any student of the Constitution and the Supreme Court will tell you that decisions are not made entirely within the bubble of the legal system. There always is some reflection on the realities of society and the real experiences of being a human being that goes into deciding important cases. That is where the "coincidence" of this date on the Jewish calendar comes into the story.
Last night, as the second day of Passover began, Jews began the Counting of the Omer. This is the period in which we count the days and weeks from this holiday to the next holiday, Shavuot. There are exactly fifty days from the holiday on which we celebrate our freedom to the holiday on which we celebrate the giving of the Torah. The Jewish mystical tradition gives a separate meaning to each of the 49 days of counting before Shavuot begins.
In this week, the first week of the Omer, the focus is on the divine quality of chesed, understood as love or lovingkindness. The first day of each week also has the focus of chesed. So, this day has the double intention of the divine quality of "love within love." We contemplate today how well we bring loving compassion into our loving relationships. We meditate on how we honor love in our lives and show our caring attention to love.
This is the way I hope the Supreme Court will bring the human dimension into its deliberations. We cannot truly be a loving society, a society that honors love, if we also are a society that denies the real experience of love to many of our citizens. We cannot claim to be a society that cares about matters of the heart, if we are cold-hearted with regard to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.
By the end of the day today, the Supreme Court will have heard the logical and legal arguments for and against DOMA. Let us hope that the justices also hear the call of their hearts to heed love and allow it to enter into their judgment.
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