Jewish Outlook, an organisation representing lesbian and gay people in the Jewish community, has said that it welcomes the recent decision by the South African Union of Progressive Judaism (SAUPJ) to allow its rabbis, and lay marriage officers, to marry same-sex couples in a full Jewish ceremony.

David Bilchitz, chairperson of Jewish OutLook, described the decision as “an important milestone on the road to the recognition that the Jewish community is diverse and needs to find place within it for the full and equal treatment of lesbian and gay Jews. Through this decision, the Progressive Jewish community has made an important statement that it provides a home to all those Jews who wish to reconcile their Jewishness with a belief in human rights and the values of the new South Africa”.

Particularly noteworthy, according to the organisation, was the decision that the status and recognition of lesbian and gay relationships would be equal in progressive communities to that of heterosexual couples and would be recognised as a full Jewish marriage or ‘kiddushin’.

“This decision was arrived at after long and thoughtful deliberation, and in the spirit of what Progressive Judaism is about – inclusion of all Jews regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity,” said Steve Lurie, chairperson of the SAUPJ.

The decision was taken at the National Assembly of the SAUPJ held in Durban on 6 May where it was agreed that there should be no distinction in the status of religious marriages of same-sex partners and heterosexual couples.

“This is a matter of justice and principle and we believe it is what Judaism requires of us in this day and age,” said Lurie. “As an inclusive movement, and one with a strong commitment to ensure that injustice is not done in our communities, we believe that this move goes a long way to repudiate prejudice.”

The SAUPJ decision means that marriages for same-sex couples (of two Jewish partners) can be conducted in synagogues and the ceremonies will be largely equivalent to those of heterosexual couples.

Michael Smolinsky, Political Officer of Jewish OutLook stated: “The decision should challenge other religions and more traditional denominations such as Orthodox Judaism to transform their cruel and unjust stance towards lesbian and gay people into a position that conforms with the dignity and equality owing to all human beings irrespective of sexual orientation”.

In December 2006, South Africa became the fifth country in the world to grant same-sex couples the same status and rights as heterosexual marriage partners.

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