I wasn’t going to write about the Daughters of Tzelophechad again. Everyone writes about the Daughters of Tzelophechad this week. The Daughters of Tzelophechad are the go-to story in this week’s parasha, often because, if you read your words out loud, you get to say, “Tzelophechad” a lot.
But there are other parts to this week’s parasha, yet the Daughters’ voices are joyously crowding out all the other ones in my head right now. That’s because their story is one of equal protection under the law, and this morning’s SCOTUS news is all about that.
The Israelites are in the wilderness. There’s another listing of the tribes, who and how many. Then we hear that Tzelophechad didn’t have any sons, but he did have five daughters. They were going to be left out of any holdings. They came to Moses and pointed out that this wasn’t fair. Moses checked in with the Supreme Court (God) and the SCOTI (Supreme Court of The Israelites) agreed that “their cause was just, you should give them a hereditary holding among their father’s kinsmen and transfer their father’s share to them.” (Num 27: 6)
SCOTI knew that the law in place needed to be changed, and it took the courage of five women to step forward and plea before the lower court (Moses) so that the injustice could be recognized.
The US Supreme Court ruled today what many of us knew all along; that DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) was unconstitutional, and that it was unlawful discrimination to treat same-sex couples who are legally married under their own state law any differently when it comes to federal legal treatment. SCOTUS also shot down Prop 8 in California, paving the way for same-sex couples to be legally married in that state. Two for two.
Justice Kennedy, so often the “swing vote” in far too many 5-4 decisions, wrote, “DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty. It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper. DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others. The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”
Personhood and dignity. Liberty. Dignified and proper. Words that are finally, federally, applied to all those who love and wish to marry. Words that the Torah understood.
People still ask me how the ancient text of Torah is applicable to today’s life.
I’ll tell you how: The Daughters of Tzelophechad.