As they walked together toward the bridal canopy, the chuppah in Hebrew, their steps were slow and measured. But it was not only the solemnity of the moment that created the pace. There was something more. Ray’s arm steadied Giorgio while Giorgio’s cane offered them additional stability. But no infirmity could dim their smiles. Ray, in his mid-seventies and Giorgio, approaching eighty, had been together for 48 years and finally, on that beautiful morning under a bright blue Italian sky, they were having what they both thought would have been impossible in their lifetime – their same-sex Jewish wedding.
As a modern pluralistic rabbi I had the joy and honor of officiating at Ray and Giorgio’s Jewish ceremony, the first of many that I have performed both in Europe and in the United States.
Many modern rabbis among them, Rabbi Amber Powers, highlight Jewish history regarding gay marriage. In her research Rabbi Powers found that official support for same-sex marriage among the major streams of Judaism has grown steadily in recent years. A turning point came in 1992 when the Reconstructionist Jewish movement publicly emphasized its support for including gay men and women in all aspects of Jewish life. As a result guidelines for same-sex ceremonies are now a part of the Reconstructionist Rabbi’s Manual alongside the traditional heterosexual ceremony..
The Reform Jewish movement is the largest in world. In 1997 it resolved to “support secular efforts to promote legislation which would provide civil marriage equal opportunity for gay men and lesbians.” In recent years (2000), the Reform Movement voted overwhelmingly to support colleagues who choose to perform same-sex ceremonies, stating “that the relationship of a Jewish, same gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual.” In the past 14 years throughout North America, Reform and liberal rabbis have performed the majority of same-sex unions.
The Conservative Jewish movement, as its name implies, historically has had a more restrictive view of gay marriage. Yet surprising as it is to some, in June 2012 a legislative body of the Conservative movement voted overwhelmingly to formally approve gay marriage ceremonies.
Within the Orthodox community, there has been no public endorsement of same-sex marriage but orthodox Rabbi Steven Greenberg officiated at the Washington, DC wedding of two men. Rabbi Greenberg continues to lobby for changes in Jewish law (halakah) that would lead to acceptance of homosexuality, noting that previous halachic changes have led to the inclusion of women in ritual observance.
As a rabbi who serves in Europe as well as in the United States, I have had the opportunity to share in the review of a wedding ceremony especially designed for gay and lesbian couples. The service, called Brit Ahavah, a Hebrew phrase that means “Covenant of Love,” was created in 2005 by the Liberal Jewish movement in the United Kingdom. In fact it was “The Covenant of Love” ceremony that served as my guide when I performed Ray and Giorgio’s Jewish wedding – liturgy that I continue to use as I bring gay and lesbian couples under the chuppah for their Jewish or Jewish interfaith wedding.
Rabbi David Wolpe, a respected author and modern sage of the Conservative movement put it best when he wrote, “We’ve come a long way. At one time, the rhetoric dominating the discourse on homosexuality among the gatekeepers of traditional Judaism was condemnatory at best, cruel at worst.” I agree. In fact it is in the Book of Genesis, the first of the Five Books of Moses, that comprise the Torah where we read that each of us is created in God’s image and it is not good for us to be alone.
Ray and Giorgio understood this and for 48 years they quietly affirmed this beautiful Torah principle and for me, as their wedding rabbi, their courageous spirit continues to inform my work. Back then Ray and Giorgio’s ceremony was symbolic only. Today in many places around the world their ceremony would be not only a spiritual affirmation but one that is legally recognized as well.
Both Ray and Giorgio have passed on but I will always remember them, so deeply in love and so deeply committed to their Jewish traditions. In their honor and memory I salute all the gay and lesbian couples who now can enjoy not only the spiritual blessings of marriage but the legal benefits as well – a long anticipated Mazel Tov that has finally arrived.
Note: This article first appeared as an Op-Ed in the Bradenton Herald, Bradenton, Florida. It is used with permission.