By Mike Stetzer
March 23, 2007 — After seemingly being on its way to moving out of the Maryland Senate, a piece of legislation requiring Orthodox Jewish men to also grant their wives a religious divorce in the midst of a civil divorce failed late last week.
Senator Lisa Gladden had proposed Senate Bill 533, which she said would alleviate a disturbing problem in Jewish divorces. Under Jewish law, a man must grant his wife a divorce decree or "get" in order for her to date and remarry in the future. Gladden and other proponents of this Maryland divorce legislation have argued that some Jewish men have held this unique power over the heads of their wives in order to negotiate better child custody and visitation agreements.
This problem had become so prevalent that some Orthodox Jewish women have appealed to civil courts to step in, an issue which sparked the concern of opponents like Rhona Kramer, who said this divorce legislation was a clear violation of church and state.
Apparently, the opinion of Kramer and fellow opponents won out in the state Senate. After this Maryland divorce legislation was initially approved by a 35-10 vote in the Senate early last week, it fell two votes short of passage last Friday. Specifically, a story in The Examiner said that Senate Bill 533 was locked at a 22-22 vote.
While calling this proposed Maryland divorce law well-intentioned, Kramer said it was ultimately an issue of the state interfering with a religious issue. Senator James Raskin agreed and even called the existing Jewish divorce law sexist. However, he added that Gladden's Maryland divorce legislation did not meet Supreme Court standards for the state to enter into play. Raskin basically said in The Examiner story that this Maryland divorce legislation was not primarily secular in nature and ultimately put the state in the middle of a religious matter.
Gladden could not disagree anymore. She called her proposed divorce legislation a matter of fairness and not religion. She even described the Jewish law as being a women's rights issue.
Just days before this bill's failure to be approved in the Senate, Gladden and Kramer laughed about their different viewpoints in a Baltimore Sun story. After this Maryland divorce bill was initially approved, Gladden and Kramer specifically joked about their backgrounds. Gladden, a Southern Baptist, sponsored the bill while Kramer, a Conservative Jew, opposed it.
While certainly upset with the failure of her divorce bill in the Senate, Gladden and all other proponents will now turn their eyes to the state House of Representatives, where a very similar piece of legislation has been sponsored.