Category: Law

New York Same Sex Marriage Law’s Religious Exemptions

Many thanks to the Loyal Reader(s) to sent over the link to the full text of New York’s same sex marriage law just signed permitting gay marriage in the state of New York. As I wrote extensively, my position on the subject was less about restricting gay marriage than about maintaining religious exemptions. For those interested, here are the relevant passages from New York’s new law.

Why Orthodox Jews Should Not Oppose Legalizing Same Sex Marriage

On May 23 2011 several prominent Orthodox Jewish organizations issued a joint statement declaring their opposition to legalizing same sex-marriage. The brief statement is as follows:

On the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage, the Orthodox Jewish world speaks with one voice, loud and clear:

We oppose the redefinition of the bedrock relationship of the human family.

The Torah, which forbids homosexual activity, sanctions only the union of a man and a woman in matrimony. While we do not seek to impose our religious principles on others, we believe the institution of marriage is central to the formation of a healthy society and the raising of children. It is our sincere conviction that discarding the historical definition of marriage would be detrimental to society.

Moreover, we are deeply concerned that, should any such redefinition occur, members of traditional communities like ours will incur moral opprobrium and may risk legal sanction if they refuse to transgress their beliefs. That prospect is chilling, and should be unacceptable to all people of good will on both sides of this debate.

The integrity of marriage in its traditional form must be preserved.

This statement was issued not only by Orthodox institutions considered “right-of center” such as Agudath Israel of America or National Council of Young Israel, but also by more moderate Orthodox organizations such as the Orthodox Union (OU) and the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA).1 Unlike most religious proclamations which are directed towards specific religious communities, this joint statement advocates a political position – though based on religious principles – to the secular world beyond the normal scope of religious influence. To be sure, this joint statement is hardly the first time rabbinic organizations have issued political statements. Across all major denominations, the Orthodox RCA, Conservative Rabbinical Assembly, and Reform Central Conference of American Rabbis have all passed resolutions advocating public polices exemplifying their respective religious beliefs, with few (if any) complaining about the separation of church and state.

But due to the inherent subjective moral arguments against same-sex marriage, I argue that Jews – especially the Orthodox – would be better served in not opposing its legalization.

Fun With Parsonage

I’m still looking for a place to live on the Lower East Side. The rents have really gotten out of control with the economy and many others are trying to sell. To top it off, the co-ops have fees ranging from $1,000-$1,500 just for the right to rent in that building. In fact were it not for parsonage, I’d never be able to even consider living down there.
What’s parsonage you may ask? The term originally referred to a rectory or dwelling of the priest on the premises of a church. These days it’s more associated with a tax benefit given to clergy members where housing expenses are paid with pre-tax dollars (simplified definition). Quoth the IRS:

A minister who is furnished a parsonage may exclude from income the fair rental value of the parsonage, including utilities. However, the amount excluded cannot be more than the reasonable pay for the minister’s services.

The catch is that clergy are also considered “self-employed” which means we get nailed double when it comes to social security, paying both the employee and employer side of things. However, there is one interesting loophole:

The fair rental value of a parsonage or the housing allowance is excludable from income only for income tax purposes. No exclusion applies for self-employment tax purposes. For Social Security purposes, a duly ordained, licensed or commissioned minister is self-employed…However, you can request an exemption from self-employment tax, if you are conscientiously opposed to public insurance for religious reasons.

Even if a Rabbi were to go Milton Friedman in lomdus on the IRS, I’d have to guess that most Rabbis do in fact participate in social security.
Still I’d love to hear from any Rabbi who has in fact used this exemption – and the arguments they’ve used.

Discrediting Subprime “Victims”

We recently mocked big business for outsmarting themselves in the subprime crisis, but it seems that there’s plenty of criticism to go around. Take for example, this powerful New York Times article of the subprime crisis’ impact on communities. To be sure, people are living scared and are understandably nervous about losing their homes and even treading financial water. And we can even grant that lenders have and still do engage in predatory lending practices, including student loans.
But just as we must hold big businesses accountable for their unethical practices, we must also examine the motivations of the affected individuals involved as well. Specifically, while big businesses are motivated by profit, many “victims” sought to maximize consumption with minimum immediate and therefore minimum visible cost. For example, the article reports that one person facing foreclosure, “bought her Bronx home for $535,000 with no cash down.” For many people, myself included, $535,000 is a great deal of money. To “purchase” a house for that amount entirely on credit demonstrates not just a lack of financial acumen, but the immature mentality of expectation and entitlement i.e. that desires ought to be satisfied immediately.
Worse is that people aren’t even learning from their mistakes. The article continues:

In some cases they cannot even work up the money to furnish their homes. Few customers have visited Boston Road Furniture, despite a handwritten come-on taped to the window that promises anyone can ?Get Up to $3,000 Instantly No Job No Credit Check.?

The proprietor adds:

?We need a government loan,? he said. ?This country is falling apart. We need customers. We need some help. So many ?For Sale? signs in this neighborhood. People just have to leave their homes and run.? [emphasis added]

The communal mentality is firmly entrenched in credit as a normal way of operation. True credit and financial liquidity are an essential part of economic systems, but here we have the epitome of short term financial thinking. Immediate interests are always satisfied, while the inevitable costs are simply ignored and disregarded – out of sight, out of mind.
Big businesses did take a hit for their own corporate greed to the tune of several billion dollars, and deservedly so. But while there are no doubt actual victims of the subprime crisis, there are also affected individuals who are now facing the consequences of their own materialism.
I refer all others to SNL’a helpful advice.

Roughs In the Diamonds

There’s a great article in the L.A. Times about a diamond deal gone bad. What makes this so fascinating is that the diamond industry is one of the few which relies primarily on trust and where “word is bond.” Normally such scandals are rare since as the article notes, even the mere filing of lawsuits is enough to tarnish one’s reputation. I’m curious if the increase of globalization will turn the diamond trade into just another business.
For those with Lexis-Nexis or good Library access, I highly recommend the authoritative academic study by U of C law professor (and really cool person) Lisa Bernstein, “Opting Out of the Legal System: Extralegal Contractual Relations in the Diamond Industry,” 21 Journal of Legal Studies 115 (1992).