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Jewish groups offer mixed response on same-sex marriage ruling

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jewish groups split on their response to a federal appeals court ruling that allows same-sex couples to marry in California.

The 2-1 decision Tuesday by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Proposition 8, a 2008 ballot measure that said same-sex marriages violated the state constitution. Prop 8 had reversed a decision the same year by the California state Supreme Court that had allowed same-sex marriage.

The National Council of Jewish Women, welcoming the appeals court decision, said it "marks a milestone in the effort to provide full rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans."

The Orthodox Union said the decision was disappointing.

"While Judaism also teaches respect for others and condemns discrimination, we, as Orthodox Jewish leaders, oppose any effort to change the definition of marriage to include same-sex unions," said the umbrella group, adding that it would back an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In an apparent bid to head off just such an appeal, the appellate court’s decision was narrowly cast.

Instead of upholding a right to same-sex marriage, as some experts had anticipated it would do, the decision blasted Proposition 8 as a bid to discriminate against a class otherwise protected by existing California laws and precedents.

"Proposition 8 operates with no apparent purpose but to impose on gays and lesbians, through the public law, a majority’s private disapproval of them and their relationships," the decision said.

The Reform movement, in praising the decision, noted its narrow scope.  

"While the decision is narrow, it is nonetheless an important step forward in the achievement of marriage equality," said a statement by Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Jonathan Stein, the president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. "As the purveyor of civil marriage, government should embrace an inclusive definition of marriage that establishes equality for all couples, regardless of the sex of the people involved."

Agudath Israel of America, another Orthodox umbrella, faulted the court for avoiding the constitutional implications of recognizing same-sex marriage.

"The court undid the democratic choice of the voters who passed Proposition 8 without even finding that the constitution requires recognition of same-gender marriage," it said. "There is something very wrong with this picture."

Agudah called for an appeal of the decision to a fuller panel of the 9th Circuit or to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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