The following is excerpted from an address given by Rabbi Elizabeth Dunsker on Feb. 9 at the start of a Vancouver to Olympia week-long march by clergy in support of marriage equality. Dunsker is the rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami, a Reform congregation in Vancouver, WA.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Only three times in the entire Hebrew Bible is love commanded. We are commanded to love our neighbor, to love the stranger and to love God. Love is so sacred, so precious, that it is rarely commanded. It is forced on us only in those three circumstances. Given that, those three must be pretty important.
We are commanded to love God, because God led us out of slavery. We must love the stranger, because we were strangers once.
But why must we be forced through commandment to love our neighbors? Perhaps they are different from us? Perhaps sometimes they play their music too loudly and they annoy us? Maybe they don’t take care of their lawn and it makes our neighborhood look unkempt. Or maybe their family looks a little different than ours. The Bible tells us so clearly what to do about people in our communities who seem different – it commands us to love them.
Ibn Ezra, a Spanish biblical commentator from the Middle Ages, taught that the commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself” could be understood as, “Love the good for your neighbor as you love it for yourself.”
I believe that marriage equality is a religious imperative. It is the fulfillment of “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It is the acknowledgment that if the state is involved at all in legislating love and commitment, than it must do so for gay and lesbian couples in precisely the same way that it does so for heterosexual couples. If marriage is good for one family, then it must be so for another. If I love my neighbor as I am commanded to do, then I must ensure that we all enjoy the same rights.
I am proud of our legislature. I am proud of our governor, who stood up and declared herself a religious person who believes that backing marriage equality is the right thing to do.
Not all love needs to be commanded; most flows out of us naturally. The love we have for our children, our parents, our friends and the special, holy, sanctified love we have with a partner, husband or wife – that love is so precious and so natural, it need not be forced. When we truly love our neighbor as ourselves, then we understand exactly what it is that God is teaching us – that we are each of us created in God’s image. Sometimes when we see differences, it is hard to remember that, so we are commanded to remember it.
I remember it, that’s why I’m marching today. Our governor and legislature remember it, that’s why they have stood up and voted to love their neighbors and to honor their neighbors’ relationships. Religious people across the state of Washington remember it, and that’s why they are marching all week. Love each other, respect each other, honor each other, and for God’s sake grant each other equal rights – that is what God asks of us. I know that’s what God asks of me.