State Court Upholds Prop. 8

On Tuesday May 26, 2009, we stood in Leimert Park, together with clergy of many faiths, awaiting our fate, awaiting a verdict on our humanity.  Outrage, sorrow and a renewed sense of purpose swept across the crowd as news spread that the California Supreme Court had made a Solomon’s choice – upholding as legal the marriages entered into by same-sex couples last summer while preserving the travesty of justice that is Proposition 8.  In effect, the Court had abandoned its constitutionally designated responsibility to protect a minority from having its most basic civil rights put up for populate vote.
Like the Israelites who received the blessing of Torah at Mount Sinai yet continued to wander in the wilderness before arriving in the Promised Land, LGBT Californians and our struggle for Marriage Equality live on.  Another day of justice delayed, justice denied.
What a difference a day makes.

Last year, on May 15, 2009, the California Supreme Court courageously embraced its legacy as a leader in the pursuit of justice, equality and civil rights.  The Court wisely recognized that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, have the fundamental right to official recognition of their families. The Court proclaimed that any restrictions on access to the civil institution of marriage are impermissible forms of discrimination prohibited by the California Constitution just as they did when, in 1948, California was one of the first states in the nation to overturn laws against interracial marriage. 
It was the first of many historic days last year.

On June 17, 2008, California began issuing marriage licenses free of discrimination.  The two of us stood that day in a long line that snaked in front of West Hollywood City Park. We will forever remember the sights and sounds of that day:  Groups hovered in clusters, LGBT Jews under a Chuppah blowing the Shofar, parents with their children, traditional white wedding dresses dotted the lawn. Couples together for 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years became unlikely newlyweds.  One of us, the rabbi, officiated many weddings that beautiful day.  The other and her wife served as witnesses, smiling so hard our faces hurt, singing Mazel Tov and Simin Tov until we grew hoarse.

The days between June 17 and November 4 filled California with a euphoria that transformed millions. 18,000 couples married. 36,000 people, each of us touching wider and wider concentric circles of friends, family, colleagues, neighbors.  We became part of a giant wave of inclusion, justice and most of all hope.  Our families were finally able to protect and honor one another with all of the same rights and responsibilities as loving couples everywhere.

Each day was a gift.

Then came Election Day.  Some angry, some in shock, we went about our lives- walked our dogs, waited in traffic, worked, bought groceries, paid bills –wondering as we met neighbors, co-workers and strangers who among them had used the power of the ballot box to strip us of our civil rights.  Parents struggled to explain to their children how some people, a slim majority, had decided their family did not deserve the rights and recognition as other families.
From then on, we began to count the days to the time when the California Supreme Court would restore our dignity and quality.  If only the counting of those days had yielded the same blessings as the counting of the Omer.

Now that the Court has failed to live up to its Constitutional promise of equality and dignity for all, what can we as Jews do?  We can roll up our sleeves and get to work.  We can reach out to other communities of faith to explain why the calling of b’tzelem elohim requires us to recognize God’s image in all people.  We can speak out from the bimah, in the press and on the streets about how our heterosexual marriages have been unaffected by the loving union of our LGBT friends, family and colleagues.  We can tell the tale of how dangerous it is to give people the absolute power to strip a minority of its civil rights, knowing all too well the dark road down which a society can run if given such authority. 

And we can remember that, although Proposition 8 passed with 52% of the voting public, young people of all races and religions opposed it in overwhelming numbers.  May that generation carry us forward into a time when all people who love and seek to build a life together will have the full and equal legal right to do so. 

Elissa Barrett
Executive Director, Progressive Jewish Alliance

Rabbi Denise Eger
Congregation Kol Ami, President – Southern California Board of Rabbis

Let There Be Yiddish

“Gut Shabbes.” Synagogue vice president Donna Groman stands at the door, warmly greeting each guest. Inside, a samovar sits on a white-clothed table alongside temptingly arranged platters of homemade kugel and apple cake for the oneg.

Tonight is a Yiddish service, Zol Zahn Shabbes — literally, we should have Shabbat — and it’s happening at Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC), founded in 1972 as the world’s first synagogue for lesbian and gay Jews.

It’s a meeting of two seemingly incongruous worlds — an almost extinct 1,000-year-old Eastern European language and culture and a progressive and now well-established congregation of 180 gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and heterosexual families. And the Pico Boulevard synagogue is expecting a big crowd.

The sanctuary begins to fill. The congregants, young and old, male and female, are respectfully but comfortably attired. Many hug or kiss as they claim their chairs. All have varying allegiances to Yiddish.

Member Rebecca Weinreich, with daughters Shoshanah, 8, and Ashira, 4, is a celebrity this evening. Her grandfather, scholar Max Weinreich, founded the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in Vilna, Poland, in 1925. Escaping from the Nazis in 1940, he re-established it in Manhattan.

“Do you speak Yiddish?” I ask Weinreich.

“Not in public. The expectations because of my name are too high,” she says.

“Shalom Aleycheim.” The lights dim as cantorial soloist Fran Magid Chalin welcomes everyone.

I peruse the 17-page booklet, which includes the evening’s program, a history of the Yiddish language and links to Yiddish resources. Even a nar (fool) could realize that this evening’s agenda is not just a kitschy visit to the alte velt (Old World).

Immediately the chorus begins singing, “O, Vee Gut un Vee Voyl Iz,” a Yiddish version of “Hiney Ma Tov.” They segue seamlessly into “Meer Viln Ale Nor Sholem,” which is “Heveynu Shalom Aleycheim.” People are clapping and singing along.

More people enter, and I count more than 100 guests.

After a break to greet one another, Chalin says, “Yiddish is the language that childproofed what parents said.”

Chalin herself studied German and, in her early 20s, sang in a Yiddish adult choir in Philadelphia. There, singing songs about the early labor movement, she felt electric, establishing a deep bond with the language. Later, after graduate school, she enrolled in a two-month Yiddish immersion class at Columbia University in New York.

“Many of us have this romantic relationship with Yiddish. It speaks to us about a time gone by,” she says. But she cautions that we can’t have a relationship if we relegate it to little pockets or little sayings.

The songs that Chalin has chosen for the choir quickly dispel any sense of romanticism. “Un Du Akerst, Un Du Zeyst” (“And You Plow and You Sow”), written in 1864 for the German Workingman’s Federation, taunts workers for how little they have to show for all their hard work. Others were written during the Shoah, giving comfort to the Jews in the same ways the Negro spirituals sustained the slaves.

Chalin introduces Lilke Majzner, Yiddishist and president of Los Angeles’ Yiddish Culture Club, founded in 1926. A native of Lodz, Poland, and a survivor of seven concentration camps, Majzner came to the United States in 1950 at age 17.

“I came without any script,” she says in a booming, confident voice. “I came to talk to you in English about Yiddish. That’s silly. That’s very silly.”

People laugh. But it’s clear that this diminutive figure, 84, professionally dressed in a beige suit and sensible shoes, isn’t here to entertain us.

She proves that further by reading a poem by Yiddish writer Malka Tussman. It begins, “You have a Jewish mouth, so speak Yiddish.” It ends, “Let there be Yiddish. That’s how I talk.”

How Majzner talks is even more emphatic: “I am shouting into your Jewish ears. Let there be Yiddish.”

And shouting she is. She educates us about the 1,000-year history of Yiddish — a history not just of words, of grammar and of curses but also of political parties, of freedom and of going on strike for Jewish and human rights.

And she exhorts us — passionately and convincingly — to take up the banner of her legacy, to learn Yiddish to make up for the 3.5 million Yiddish-speaking Jews who were murdered in the Shoah and to build a better world.

“And when you don’t feel the heaviness of the legacy, I will put some rocks in it,” she says.

She receives a standing ovation.

After services, a crowd gathers around Majzner, some speaking Yiddish.

I talk to Davi Cheng, a Chinese American Jew-by-choice. She grimaces as she describes the frustration of mastering the guttural sounds of Yiddish.

“There’s no ‘ch’ sound in Chinese,” she explains.

I also sit briefly with Chalin who tells me how, in her experience, she finds a disproportionate number of gays and lesbians studying Yiddish.

“In my classes at Columbia, we talked about how Yiddish doesn’t have a country and how often the GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender] community feels like a people without a country,” she says.

Chalin thinks many of those who desire to speak Yiddish fluently, like gays and lesbians, long for the notion of a secure community.

At evening’s end, as people leave, I notice the samovar is empty and the apple cake and kugel gone.

Jane Ulman lives in Encino and has four sons.


‘Superman’ Director Lives Out His Dream

“Whether you’re an immigrant or you’re born in the heartland, at some point we all feel like an alien.”

Those are not the words of an immigration rights attorney but rather of filmmaker Bryan Singer, whose last three films, the first two editions of “X-Men” and the upcoming “Superman Returns,” which opens on June 28 nationwide, all present parables on the current state of xenophobia pervading this country.

Of the famed Man of Steel, first introduced to comic book readers in the 1930s, Singer said, “He’s kind of the ultimate immigrant. He comes from a foreign place, adapts to the value system and has a special relationship with his heritage.”

Singer sees Superman, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster — two Jews who were sons of immigrants — as a Judeo-Christian hero, part Moses, part Jesus. Like Moses, Superman is the boy dispatched down the metaphoric river to be discovered in the cornfields, if not the reeds, of the Midwest. Like Jesus, he has a kind of doubling with his father, voiced in the new film as in the 1978 “Superman” by the late Marlon Brando, who says, “The son becomes the father, and the father becomes the son.”

If Superman first entered popular culture when the Nazis were beginning to assert their power in Germany, he “never cleared up the problems in Europe,” Singer said. “He handled small problems; he served by example.”

Over the decades, however, through numerous incarnations in comic strips, animated shorts, television shows and films, Superman began tackling worldwide catastrophes, as he does in Singer’s new film, though he does not rescue Jews per se.

That does not mean that Superman lacks a Jewish pedigree.

As Michael Chabon suggested in his novel, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” Siegel and Shuster, in conceptualizing Superman, may very well have been inspired by the Golem, a mythic figure in Jewish folklore, who could be built from mud and clay, according to strict rabbinic instructions, and could vanquish all evil.

Yet “Superman Returns” never implies that its protagonist, played by Brandon Routh, is of any ethnicity other than Kryptonian. If he resembles any mythological creatures, they would seem to be Greek ones. Like Atlas, Superman lifts, if not the entire planet, a huge nefarious landmass, which he hurls into space. He also catches the ornamental globe that sits atop the Daily Planet Building, a structure modeled after the art deco former home of the New York Daily News. Of course, Superman’s strength is matched by his speed as he flies through the sky like Hermes, easing a plane carrying Lois Lane, played by Kate Bosworth, into an emergency landing on a ball field.

Superman may have been in drydock for five years, as we are told in the film, but unlike Roger Clemens, he doesn’t get the benefit of a trip to the minors. He must perform at a big league level from the start, although we do see flashbacks to his youth, when he runs through the cornfields and learns how to fly, a nice touch since Superman did not fly in his early comic strips.

The 40-year-old Singer calls “Superman Returns” a “dream project” and said “it was a fantasy of mine to have Kryptonian blood,” not surprising for a man who in the 1970s loved watching reruns of the “Superman” TV show starring George Reeves. But Singer did not read the comics as a child. To this day, he suffers from dyslexia, which still impedes his efforts at reading. He likes to read short stories, but he did not even know about the “X-Men” until he was assigned to direct the first movie of that franchise.

While “X-Men” and “X2,” which came out in 2000 and 2003, respectively, predate the current illegal immigration crisis, they, like all of Singer’s films, deal with the human capacity for evil and for persecuting outsiders, whoever they may be.

Like Superman, the mutants in the “X-Men” movies are not simply stand-ins for illegal immigrants. They are heroic, if in some cases demonic, fantasies of the other — the outsider in all of us.

As a gay, adopted, agnostic Jew, Singer has always been drawn to the otherness of these superheroes, though he chuckles when asked about a recent Los Angeles Times article that highlighted Superman’s gay appeal. “If you look at my career,” he said, “I’ve probably never made a more heterosexual movie before.”

None of his previous studio movies may have had an explicit gay theme to them, but “The Usual Suspects,” his 1995 breakthrough film, which received much buzz for its plot twists, subversion of the noir genre and brilliant ensemble cast, may be best remembered for the Oscar-winning performance of Kevin Spacey, essaying Verbal Kint, a criminal mastermind of dubious sexuality.

Singer followed that with 1998’s “Apt Pupil,” in which Brad Renfro plays a high school student obsessed with the Holocaust and with a former Nazi living in his neighborhood. The film featured some baroque horror touches, such as when Ian McKellen’s Nazi tries to stuff a cat in an oven, and Singer even framed a few longing looks between the 16-year-old boy and his Nazi mentor, cut next to a shot of the boy’s indifferent response to the sexual advances of his girlfriend.

Then came “X-Men” and “X2,” McCarthyite allegories that among other provocations featured McKellen, the Nazi in “Apt Pupil,” as a Holocaust survivor, who like Darth Vader has turned to the dark side.

“X2,” in particular, showed us non-Geneva-friendly torture taking place in prison cells that but for their high-tech gadgetry might remind one of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo. There are also congressional and presidential calls for mandatory mutant registration, prescient in the wake of today’s immigration legislation proposals, and, of course, a teenage son coming out to his parents that he is a mutant, prompting the altogether familiar reply from his mother, “Can’t you just not be a mutant?”

While Singer wants as broad an audience as possible to enjoy the film, he particularly wants “older people and women to have an emotional experience,” he said. Unlike his past films, “Superman Returns” is, Singer said, “a romantic picture.”

It is also a film with a long and troubled past. Over the last decade, numerous actors and directors were attached to the film, whose budget, like its superhero, seemed to know no bounds. None of that history worried Singer, who got a chance to reshape the storyline and, indeed, has a story credit on the film. It also helped that he used some of his regular repertory of actors, such as Spacey, playing yet another notable villain: Lex Luthor.

Singer’s first real understanding of evil came when, as a boy of 9 or 10, he dressed up as a Nazi one day while playing a World War II game with his German neighbors in Princeton Junction, N.J. He came home wearing a swastika.

Singer’s mother admonished him, but it wasn’t until a few years later, when his junior high school teacher, Miss Fiscarelli, taught an entire unit in social studies on the Holocaust, that he gained a greater understanding as to why his mother had been so troubled. That class changed Singer’s “whole perception of what people are capable of anywhere,” he said.

“Superman Returns” is not directly about Nazis, and its diabolical antagonist is more over-the-top than menacing, yet Singer does not discount the possibility of future genocides.

“The German culture [at the time of the Holocaust] was extremely artistic, extremely sophisticated and extremely advanced,” he said, proving that “anywhere, any place, any century, it’s possible, and any person is capable of it.”

“Superman Returns” opens nationwide on June 28.


Gay Marriage Ban Could Alienate Jews

It’s a familiar calculus in the relationship between the Jewish community and the Bush administration: a social issue that divides the country 50-50 has the Jewish community split 75-25 against where President Bush stands.

On Monday, Bush strongly endorsed the federal marriage amendment to the U.S. constitution, which would effectively ban gay marriage.

“Marriage is the most fundamental institution of civilization, and it should not be redefined by activist judges,” Bush said after meeting with supporters of the constitutional amendment. He was referring to the 2004 decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court to recognize same-sex marriages.

The bill, which was likely to be considered by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, has virtually no chance of passing. Constitutional amendments need 67 of the 100 Senate votes to pass, and no one anticipates the vote breaking 55.

That makes it a win-win for Bush in his effort to keep evangelical conservatives on board ahead of the November midterm congressional elections. The reasoning is that the amendment will still resonate with the GOP’s conservative base five months from now, but will likely have disappeared from the memories of Republican-leaning social moderates.

However, Jewish Republicans, who have been trying to lure Jews away from their solid 3-to-1 support for Democrats, might have been dealt a blow, at least according to the amendment’s opponents.

“It’s unclear to me how the Republican Party will gain ground in the Jewish community by bringing forth a centerpiece of the religious right’s agenda,” said Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center. “For a large section of the Jewish community, this is an issue of fundamental rights and they will be watching closely to see how their senators vote.”

The Reform and Reconstructionist movements oppose the amendment. On Tuesday, the Conservative movement’s leadership joined in the opposition, in a statement that referred to a 2003 United Synagogue resolution opposing any such discrimination. Also in opposition are major Jewish civil liberties groups, including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.

The National Council of Jewish Women has taken a lead in opposing the legislation, organizing clerical lobbying against it and leading an alliance of liberal Jewish groups in urging senators to vote it down. Orthodox groups, led by the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America, support the amendment.

The most recent polling on the issue, by Gallup, found 50 percent of Americans in favor of the amendment and 47 percent opposed. A 2004 American Jewish Committee survey of American Jews found 24 percent in favor and 74 percent opposed.

Jewish supporters of the amendment suggested they would sell the amendment to the Jewish community as one that would guarantee religious freedoms.

Proponents of gay marriage were “pursuing a deliberate plan of litigation and political pressure which will not only redefine marriage, but will follow from that to threaten the first freedom enshrined in the First Amendment — religious liberty,” said Nathan Diament, the director of the Washington office of the Orthodox Union.

Diament, the only Jewish participant at the meeting with Bush on Monday, said the Massachusetts ruling already had a negative impact on religious freedom. He cited as example the state’s Roman Catholic Church decision to drop out of the adoption business because it would be required to consider gay couples as parents.

“They’re trying to impose their position on society at large,” he said of proponents of gay marriage. “How a society defines marriage affects everybody.”

That view had some backing from at least one Jewish civil rights group, the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress).

Marc Stern, the AJCongress’ general counsel, cited the example of an Orthodox kosher caterer who could face a lawsuit for refusing to cater a same-sex wedding.

A successful compromise would “recognize the marriages in the context of a secular economy, for instance by not discriminating on domestic partner benefits, but it would not force people to act in areas they find morally reprehensible,” Stern said.

Chai Feldblum, a Georgetown University law professor and an activist for gay rights, said such arguments had no place in the public arena.

“There are lots of ways in which a religious organization can run its business as it wishes,” Feldblum said. “Rabbis don’t have to perform a marriage that they don’t agree with, a religious organization does not have to allow lesbians as rabbis. The problem is when religious organizations are operating in the public arena, with lunch banks, day camps, shelters. Then it’s very difficult to allow a religious organization to go against the public policy of the state.”

Republican Jewish spokesmen turned down requests for comment, but the amendment was not likely to help their efforts to appeal to Jews on domestic issues.

The emphasis before the 2004 election on Bush’s friendship with Israel and his tough reputation on security issues failed to make much of a dent on the Jewish Republican vote, which crept up to between 23 percent and 25 percent from about 19 percent in 2000.

Since then, Jewish Republicans have learned the lesson of emphasizing foreign policy too much and have carefully calibrated a social message designed to appeal to younger Jews. In Jewish newspaper advertisements and in stump speeches, Bush’s pro-business record is pitched to Jewish voters who may be more fiscally conservative than their parents.

And spokesmen like party chairman Ken Mehlman, who is Jewish, bluntly acknowledge to Jews that the Democrats were on the right side of history when they backed civil rights in the 1960s; but they say that Bush has inherited that mantle with his efforts to promote democracy abroad and force education reforms at home.

The most prominent Jewish Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would vote against the amendment. He cited classic Republican small government philosophy: government “ought to be kept off our backs, out of our pocketbooks and out of our bedrooms,” Specter said, according to The New York Times.

Democrats said the marriage amendment would help cripple such efforts.

“The Republicans are saddled with an agenda that’s horrific to the vast majority of American Jews,” said Ira Forman, the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Supporters of the amendment said they believed momentum was on their side. A similar effort in 2004 garnered just 48 Senate votes; this effort will top 50, they believe.

Abba Cohen, the Washington director of Agudath Israel of America, said he believed all Americans would eventually internalize the amendment’s moral arguments.

“This battle will be won in stages,” he said. “It takes time for the nation to fully absorb the implications of allowing same-sex marriage and the effect it will have on traditional families.”

The Reform movement’s Pelavin said his impression was that time was on the side of opponents of the amendment.

“This isn’t a fight that we picked, this is a fight that the president and the Republican leadership have picked,” he said. “This is an issue of fairness.”


Conservative Minyan OKs Gay Blessing

Members of Temple Beth Am’s Library Minyan voted on March 15 to allow a gay couple to receive a special blessing on Shabbat in anticipation of the couple’s commitment ceremony, marking the first time the Westside Conservative congregation has officially addressed how to handle a gay lifecycle event.

While the blessing — a Mi Sheberach akin to a prewedding aufruf for straight couples — does not itself raise serious questions of Jewish law, the vote was widely viewed as a referendum on how the Library Minyan weighs in on gay issues. The 73 to 11 vote in favor of the rite was an overwhelming affirmation by the minyan, a lay-led prayer and learning community founded in 1971 that is affiliated with Beth Am and is home to influential academics and rabbis in the Conservative movement.

The vote came as national leaders are debating the rights of gays within Conservative Judaism. On March 8, the movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards delayed until December 2006 a much-anticipated decision on whether the movement should ordain gay rabbis and/or allow its clergy to officiate at gay commitment ceremonies.

The Conservative movement walks a precarious middle ground on this issue, officially affirming the civil rights of gays and welcoming them into congregations, but not ordaining gay rabbis or blessing same-sex unions, according to a 1992 policy.

That internal conflict played out last week at the Library Minyan, which is among the first Los Angeles Conservative congregations to host gay aufruf.

The debate was heavily one-sided, according to those present, and Rabbi Joel Rembaum, senior rabbi at Beth Am and a founder of the Library Minyan, supported the measure. Rabbi Rembaum authored the Mi Sheberach — a short blessing recited during an aliyah to the Torah — after he was approached in December by a member of the congregation who is having a commitment ceremony with his partner in May at the Reform Temple Kol Ami in West Hollywood.

“I didn’t ask Rabbi Rembaum to perform the ceremony, because I didn’t think he was ready,” said R., who has been a member of the minyan for seven years and who asked not to have his name made public. “But I told Rabbi Rembaum that I would like to involve the community in some way, and I didn’t think there would be terrible issues.”

Rabbi Rembaum’s thinking on the matter has evolved. He said he believes that homosexuality is not a choice, but the way God made a person. He interprets the biblical prohibition against a man lying with a man as part of the Bible’s war against paganism, since homosexual sex was seen as an expression of Caananite ritual. While he still holds traditional marriage as the ideal, he believes that when two men, or two women, want to sanctify their love and frame their lives in Jewish values, Judaism should support that.

Rabbi Rembaum said that, if the law committee approves it, he would consider officiating at gay commitment ceremonies.

“I think I have come around to the point where I am ready,” he said. The question of the Mi Sheberach is much simpler. The Conservative movement calls for synagogues to embrace gays and leaves the doling out of synagogue honors to the rabbi.

Beth Am’s ritual committee unanimously approved the Mi Sheberach, and the Library Minyan’s ritual committee decided to bring it before a full plenary of the Minyan.

The March 15 meeting attracted about 100 members. Rabbi Rembaum presented his views, and so did Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a minyan member who is a rector and professor of philosophy at the University of Judaism and a member of the national Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.

Rabbi Dorff, long a proponent of gay rights, also summarized the opposing position, since efforts to fly in a speaker who supports the status quo were unsuccessful. Some were concerned that the opposing side did not get a fair shot. The overwhelmingly pro-aufruf sentiment, some present say, intimidated the opposition.

“I was disappointed in the way it was handled,” said Larry Weinman, a minyan member for 10 years. “I thought people who were on the opposing side were treated impolitely.”

Some in the opposition simply did not buy the reinterpretation of a seemingly clear-cut biblical prohibition against male-male sex. Others were undecided but had a problem with the curtailed debate and quick vote, which they say did not comport with the Library Minyan’s acclaimed democratic process.

But even the opposition acknowledges that if the process were different, the result would still have been the same.

On the national level, the outcome is still up in the air.

In the last three years, the committee on Jewish Law and Standards, which interprets Jewish law and sets legal policy for the movement, reopened the 1992 policy against commitment ceremonies and ordaining gays.

Last week, the 25-member committee was presented with four responsa — two for retaining the status quo and two for changing the policy. It takes six votes to approve a responsum, and the committee can issue multiple responsa. After a two-day closed meeting, the committee decided to delay the vote, because it wanted to leave time for revisions.

But Dorff, who will take the leadership of the law committee after this issue is decided, believes the decision was delayed because four of the five members who rotate off the committee this week favored liberal interpretations.

“My guess is that people knew that if they could delay a decision, by next December it would be much harder to get liberal teshuvot [responsa] passed,” Dorff said.

But he sees change on the ground. He estimates that 50 Conservative rabbis currently perform gay marriages.

For R. and his partner, such a sign of change is welcome news.

The debate and vote were “a trying and terrible experience that took away from what should have been a joyful part of my life,” said R. “But I believe that it made a point and that the synagogue will grow stronger for it.”