Nothing will keep me away from ceremony
June 16, 2000
I WAS honoured this week when two dear friends asked me to marry them.
I would be their minister in an ocean’s edge service at dusk, a declaration before God to all their family and friends that they loved each other, that they wanted to devote all their days to each other and to raising their own family.
I have known one of them since the late 1980s, an acquaintance forged during some now-forgotten writ or countersuit.
Brought up in an Orthodox background, he is an unusually spiritual man for an LA lawyer, with a spiritual creed that is unusual in any profession or country.
I will call him ‘Jacob’, because the core of his beliefs, as he has carefully explained them to me, is that life is a ladder which we can climb to a higher self — or descend, into a moral morass.
He has lived with his partner, who follows a more conventional Jewish pattern of worship with unfussy earnestness, for four years.
I have dined with them a dozen times, and I know they will make wonderful parents. I’ll call Jacob’s partner ‘Elliot’.
They are gay, of course. It isn’t that which makes me doubt whether I should perform their wedding ceremony. If they simply wanted to be married, that could be done within Judaism.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose decisions affect 1.5 million US Jews, agreed earlier this year to support any rabbi who officiated at same-sex weddings.
This bold move was warmly welcomed — the predictable voices of disapproval were widely ignored.
‘‘We’re all incredibly proud of the Reform movement for taking the stand,’’ said Rabbi Jay Perlman of Temple Share Emeth Congregation in Creve Couer.
‘‘The rabbis’ statement recognises the dignity and humanity of every single person.’’
It’s not only the US. In Canada, Rabbi Michael Levenson is offering gay marriages at his Temple Shalom in Winnipeg. Jacob and Elliot could enjoy a kosher wedding, if that was what they wanted.
I’ve talked at length to my family and close friends, searching deeply to find the right decision.
One friend, a married woman, argued that I must perform the service, as an act of love to Jacob and Elliot, and as an act of honour to the 100,000 gay men thrown into concentration camps by the Nazis.
There are less than a dozen survivors now who wore the pink triangle, a badge of the worst degradation and persecution. One historian, Dr Klaus Muller, has written: ‘‘Marked with a pink triangle, they were the lowest of the low. There was no support network like there was for political or Jewish prisoners.
‘‘They were put into slave labour squads, subjected to torture and some to terrible medical experimentation.’’
Another friend asked me if, subconsciously, I had doubts about the marriage because I knew Jacob and Elliot were intending to adopt children. My answer came instantly and confidently: ‘‘They’ll make great parents. No kid could ask for two better dads.’’
I know they’ll have the support of adoption agencies and courts in California — I am proud that Israel too would offer recognition to them as parents. The story of Matan Berner-Kadish, a four-year-old Jerusalem boy with two mothers, has shown the world Israel’s depth of love for the family.
Matan has an American-speaking Mommy called Nicole, and a Hebrew-speaking Ima called Ruth. He is biologically Ruth’s child, by artificial insemination from a sperm donor, and he has a baby brother, called Naveh, born to Nicole.
The Israeli High Court has ordered its government to register Nicole as Matan’s second mother — a ruling which echoes earlier court cases against El Al and the army, awarding benefits to gay partners.
One judge on the three-man panel dissented. Judge Abd al-Rahman Zouabi said he felt the decision sanctioned an ‘‘abnormal family unit’’. If love is abnormal, if caring for two small children is abnormal, if the need to declare lifelong devotion is abnormal — then the idea of normality terrifies me.
We saw a nasty glimpse of old-fashioned normality at the Western Wall earlier this month, after Israel’s parliament passed a bill threatening seven years’ imprisonment to any woman praying aloud at the site of the Second Temple.
Dozens of women came to defy the law, which directly contradicts a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year.
As the women gave praise to God, there were men jeering and yelling ‘Shame’ and ‘Quiet’ at them. At least four men had brought eggs to throw at the protesters.
What kind of law must be enforced by hurling eggs at women in prayer? To any sane person, isn’t that abnormal? Love between two people, of whatever gender, and a mutual longing for children — what could be more normal?
With so much good on their side and so much that is bad set against them, surely Jacob and Elliot deserve the ceremony of their choice. I have read the vows they have prepared and I know the beauty of the Pacific shoreline setting they have chosen.
And yet I wrote to tell them today that I could not act as minister, and phoned to explain my decision. I am a friend who loves them, but there is nothing in my being which qualifies me to intercede for them with God.
A minister must be a man or woman of spiritual authority — or legal authority, such as a registrar or a ship’s captain. I am a maverick, not an authority figure. I am a friend, not a guru.
I cannot marry Jacob and Elliot. But nothing will prevent me, if they will permit me as a friend, from standing on that beach to witness their vows.
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