Senate advances divorce bill

General Assembly

March 15, 2007|By Jennifer Skalka | Jennifer Skalka,Sun reporter

Religious decree would be required for Orthodox Jewish women After a spirited debate about the separation of church and state yesterday, the Maryland Senate moved a step closer to passing a bill to require that Orthodox Jewish women seeking a divorce also be granted a get, the religious decree that ends the marriage.

Some men hold the get over their wives in exchange for custody agreements or visitation schedules. Without it, a woman is not allowed to remarry within the faith.

The legislative proposal would require those filing for divorce or not contesting one to file an affidavit stating that they would not mount a religious opposition to remarriage.

The Senate exchange, largely conducted between the Southern Baptist bill sponsor and a Jewish senator who opposes the measure, explored whether it is appropriate for the state to intervene in a religious contract.

Sen. Rona E. Kramer, a Montgomery County Democrat, warned that the state should not be legislating religious doctrine. She said the bill would violate the divide between church and state.

Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a Baltimore County Democrat and the bill's sponsor, said the bill promotes equality for women who are divorcing and prevents Orthodox Jewish men from angling for extended property rights or monetary benefits.

"In the case where men are often extorting women - and this is a tragedy that I'm seeing in my own community - and those women need the help of our government," she said. "And this is not about religion; this is about fairness."

Kramer disagreed.

"How can it not be about religion when the reason that they're coming to us for assistance, to the state of Maryland, is not because the state of Maryland will not give them a divorce?" Kramer said. "It's not because our courts of equity will not treat them fairly. ... It is because of their religion. It is their religious belief that doesn't allow them to remarry."

The Senate gave its initial approval, 35-10. A final vote is expected this week.

Gladden and Kramer joked during the conversation about the irony of their positions.

"Can these women remarry as Jews at all?" Kramer, who is a Conservative Jew, asked the sponsor.

"Wow, the Southern Baptist is going to answer the question on Jewish law, and I will," Gladden replied.

She went on to explain that there are three key communities within the Jewish faith and that Orthodox Jews, the most strictly observant, are affected by the get. Under Jewish law, an Orthodox remarriage will not be sanctioned without the get.

Kramer interrupted Gladden's lesson on faith.

"You're doing it well," Kramer said.

Gladden's answer prompted her colleagues of all faiths to chuckle.

"Amen," she said.

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