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Rabbi to Liberty
University: Gay couples deserve rights

Rabbi to Liberty
University: Gay couples deserve rights

The leader of Reform Judaism delivered a controversial address at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University on Wednesday.

The leader of the Union of Reform Judaism spoke at antigay televangelist Jerry Falwell's Liberty University on Wednesday and called for the acceptance and support of gay and lesbian couples, the JTA news service reports.

"Gay Americans pose no threat to their friends, neighbors, or coworkers, and when two people make a lifelong commitment to each other, we believe it is wrong to deny them the legal guarantees that protect them and their children and benefit the broader society," Rabbi Eric Yoffie said to shocked murmurs, scattered hisses, and boos at the packed campus stadium in Lynchburg, Va.

Falwell chastised his students, telling them he had never been booed in a synagogue. Aside from that, the reception for Yoffie was warm. Falwell said it was the first time in the 32-year history of Liberty University that a rabbi helped him deliver the weekly convocation.

Yoffie has been a vocal critic of the religious right, and Falwell's invitation was a signal of reconciliation after some difficult times between evangelicals and Jews. Yoffie began Wednesday's speech by emphasizing common ground on issues such as Israel and defending persecuted religious minorities overseas. He received warm applause when he praised evangelicals for their resolute opposition to what he called "the moral crisis in America."

But according to JTA, he also laid out Reform Judaism's fundaments, including church-state separation, a woman's right to be the ultimate arbiter about whether to have an abortion, and legal protections for gay couples. Falwell said Yoffie's tone was as important as his message. "He came across in a loving, respectful way," Falwell told JTA after the convocation.

Students said they were happy to hear differing views and hoped to find common ground on other issues. "This is an opportunity to respect and recognize as legitimate different viewpoints," said Jenni Thurman, a sophomore majoring in journalism.

Yoffie said he hoped Wednesday's appearance was the start of a relationship. "I would hope as we move forward there will be follow-up and there will be coalition building," he said. But Falwell, who said the idea to invite Yoffie came during an interview with journalist Zev Chafets, was noncommittal about a follow-up. He qualified future relations with those with whom he disagrees: "We can differ on many things not essential to the freedoms in our country."

Did those "essential" things include the continued denial of legal protections to gay couples? Falwell was evasive. "We do not believe in gay marriage or polygamy or any other family form than a man marrying a woman singly," he told JTA. (The Advocate)

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