November 20, 2018

Rabbis welcome chance to officiate same-sex weddings

In 2012, Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, senior rabbi at Temple Beth Am, married two Orthodox Jews. Recounting the experience in Variety this summer in the wake of the United States Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage, Kligfeld wrote: “I married them because their rabbi wouldn’t. Their rabbi couldn’t even be asked; he didn’t even know it was taking place. That’s because Orthodox rabbis don’t marry two men, and some Conservative rabbis don’t.”

Kligfeld, on the other hand, announced himself as “a traditional Conservative rabbi who has and will officiate at same-sex weddings … to welcome others out of the closet into our community, into a Jewish life that has a place for them.” He still remembers the wedding itself, saying it contained overflowing joy for a couple for whom Judaism is central and sacred.

“The opening blessing was changed to reflect the gender and situation. There was a ketubah. They stood under the chuppah and they broke the glass,” Kligfeld said. “It passed the smell test. It looked and smelled very much like a Jewish wedding, and that was very gratifying to me.”

Views on same-sex marriage have come a long way in the years leading up to the Supreme Court’s June vote legalizing same-sex marriage, although consensus remains elusive. Orthodox tradition does not recognize such unions, while Reform and Conservative branches have been quicker to embrace them. 

In the meantime, there are couples of all genders who still want to get married under Jewish law in front of their families, friends and loved ones. In a city such as Los Angeles, with its wide range of diverse congregations, finding an officiant and creating the ceremony of one’s dreams is far less challenging for an LGBT couple than it might have been in years past.

Rabbi Heather Miller and her wife, Melissa de la Rama, have been through the process more than once: They had a domestic partnership ceremony in 2009; a spiritual wedding in 2012; and a legal wedding on July 1, 2014, after a federal court overturned Proposition 8, which had put a hold on gay and lesbian marriages in California. 

“My wife and I always say that we are going to be one of the last generations of LGBT folks to have multiple anniversaries, said Miller, rabbi at Beth Chayim Chadashim, founded in 1972 as the world’s first lesbian and gay synagogue. “Now people are going to be able to have all three ceremonies in one day, and that’s a special thing.”

She recalled waiting for a marriage license in 2014 at the Beverly Hills Courthouse, and overhearing another gay couple wondering where they could find someone to marry them. She volunteered, and married them on the steps of the courthouse.

For such ceremonies, the language of traditional elements such as the Sheva Brachot (Seven Blessings), the ketubah and the chuppah have long been customizable to be in line with a couple’s wishes. Rainbow flags have been incorporated into designs for the chuppah or the ketubah, as well. 

Rather than having the bride circle the groom seven times, same-sex couples sometimes elect to circle each other or have their family members form a circle that they will then join. Sometimes, couples elect to smash two glasses. To some, that second glass smashing highlights the dissolution of barriers that they have faced, according to Rabbi Denise L. Eger, founding rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami, a Reform synagogue in West Hollywood. 

In planning their Nov. 1 wedding, Patricia Murphy and Lori Leve identified several specific elements of the traditional Jewish ceremony that they wanted to use. The couple wrote and assigned each of the Sheva Brachot blessings to family members, and they circled each other.

Leve was raised Jewish, while Murphy grew up Irish Catholic. Despite her upbringing, however, Murphy had attended Jewish weddings and found much in the ceremony with which she connected. They worked with Miller to plan the perfect ceremony, which, in addition to being a same-sex wedding, mixed traditional Jewish elements and Irish blessings.

“Starting with the chuppah, the idea of it being a home that you invite people who are important to you, there was something remarkably significant for me in that,” Murphy said. “I love the fact that there was part of the Jewish religious experience open to us being gay and accepting of it. Having someone like Heather, who is so deeply connected to her own faith, really brought a level of legitimacy.”

That sense of connection and community tends to be significant at same-sex weddings, Eger said.

“Unless somebody is on their deathbed, everyone comes to show their support for the couple,” she said. “These days, it’s rare for someone not to come because a couple is gay. People show up for LGBT weddings to show that they’re there as an ally.”