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Jul 8 2014

How My Wedding Made Me Feel More Jewish and More Gay

By at 12:36 pm

gay jewish wedding

So, a rabbi, a Hindu doctor, and two lesbians walk into a country club…

It’s not the start of a joke, but a few years ago people would have been laughing at the idea that this was the start of a wedding story.

My relationship began just a few days before Prop 8 passed in California (I had only been in heterosexual relationships up until that point). I remember driving on the freeway in Los Angeles and hearing the news that the proposition had unexpectedly passed and that gay marriage, which had been legal for four months in California, was now illegal. I wasn’t anywhere near ready to be married at that point, but I remember thinking to myself for the first time in my life: so, this is what bigotry feels like.

I had always supported gay rights and gay marriage, even before realizing my own attractions to the same sex, but I don’t think there is a way of truly understanding bigotry until you are the victim of it. I had been married to a man…I met him, we had a relationship, and one day we chose to get married, but now I wouldn’t have that right anymore, because I was falling in love with a woman. I am truly not a very emotional person, but I remember driving on the freeway that day and crying.

gay jewish wedding

Fast forward through years of court cases, marriage equality votes (some favorable and some not), debates about religious freedom, civil rights, and the “sanctity of traditional marriage,” and we arrive at June of 2013. The U.S. Supreme Court declares part of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional (forcing the Federal Government to recognize the rights of gay couples married in states that allow legal gay marriage), and also deciding that essentially Proposition 8 was unconstitutional by allowing the lower court’s opinion to stand. California had legal gay marriage for good.

My then fiancé and I were more than ready for marriage at this point. We had been engaged for years waiting for the opportunity to exercise a right that flowed so easily to others. We had grown our family and had a daughter together, and we couldn’t wait to start planning our wedding so our family could finally be “official.” My older daughter from my first marriage and our daughter together could finally see their mommies married. And for good measure, we were going to have my long-time friend (the Hindu doctor) and a rabbi officiate at our wedding.

A wedding and its preparation can really connect you to Judaism. It’s a major life event, and with so much tradition, history, and accoutrements that need to be purchased, how can a Jew not feel more Jewish while planning a wedding? Well, in the case of a recently converted Jew, the wedding really sealed the deal for me. I had been studying Judaism for about a year prior to even knowing that a wedding would be on the horizon, and I had decided to convert about halfway through my studies. As time went on through the Jewish calendar and I experienced Jewish events and the holiday cycle, I began to feel more connected to the tribe, but the wedding really was the event that made me feel Jewish.

Finding a ketubah, (Jewish marriage contract) and personalizing it for our unique family, having some friends purchase a kiddush cup for us to use at the ceremony, deciding on a chuppah, and of course finding a rabbi to marry us, and having a somewhat “traditional” marriage all made me feel more connected to Judaism.

gay jewish wedding

Rabbi Arnold Rachlis of University Synagogue, Irvine, CA, signing the ketubah.

 

So when a religious leader of a synagogue “signed off” on my commitment and the law backed it up, two things happened for me simultaneously: I felt more comfortable being Jewish, and I felt more comfortable being gay. One of the arguments around the “need” for gays to be married was that if they were given some or even most of the legal rights of traditional marriage, do they really need to have the “marriage” itself?

Yes, the answer is yes. I had lived with my then fiancé for years, we had children, we shared finances, we shared all responsibilities, and we were a family well before the marriage, so why would the wedding and a piece of paper make a difference? Because it means we are equal. Because it means that our relationship and our family have equal standing with other relationships and families.

I am not 100 percent comfortable in my new life as a Jew or as a lesbian yet, but as society starts to see me as just another person living her life in the way that feels right, I do feel more comfortable. And through the progression of society (I think largely aided by social media) my children will see less discrimination and know more freedom. I don’t expect to change all hearts and minds–goodness knows I can’t even change the hearts and minds of people in my immediate family–but it’s getting better. After participating in a traditional event like a wedding, I know that having that piece of paper actually does make all the difference in the world.

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