Thus said the Eternal: Again there shall be heard in this place…in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem…the sound of mirth and gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and bride, the voice of those who cry, “Give thanks to the Eternal for God is good, for God’s kindness is everlasting!” as they bring thanksgiving offerings to the House of the Eternal…
It is an historic and joyful day in the United States. It’s one of those events where you want to remember where you were and how you felt when it happened. I was on the elliptical at our local JCC this morning when a woman burst in, flushed and excited, to deliver the news that DOMA had been ruled unconstitutional.
I rejoiced not only because of the ruling, but because I live (if only for a little while longer) in a community where this woman had no fear that her joyous reaction to this news would be unwelcome. Even in a state whose government is openly hostile to same-sex couples and their families, there are pockets of tolerance and acceptance, and I’m proud that our Jewish community is one of them. Last week, when I mentioned at services that Exodus International had closed its doors and apologized for years of trying to “convert” gay people, everyone cheered.
The Jewish community has also been instrumental in my own education about the concerns of the LGBT community. In many ways, my colleagues at HUC-JIR were the first to explain to me the struggles that same-sex couples and LGBT individuals face, both within the Jewish community and in the wider world.
It was through the Jewish community that I witnessed my first wedding of a same-sex couple, and learned the phrase ha’mitchadeshet v’hamitpatachat, which a few of my colleagues have added to k’dat Moshe v’Yisrael in same-sex ceremonies. It translates loosely as, “According to the ever-evolving laws of Moses and Israel.”
It pleases me to see that our civil laws, too, are evolving, for all of the individuals, couples, and families I have come to know in the various communities that I have been a part of. It delights me to watch the changing of attitudes throughout our society.
One of my favorite examples of shifting attitudes occurred in our synagogue last fall. This is possibly my favorite experience of my rabbinate so far:
Right after Amendment One passed in North Carolina, two of our congregants approached my senior rabbi and me about a ketubah. They had been together 20 years, and had held a very private commitment ceremony 18 years earlier. Since then, the non-Jewish partner had converted, and both women became active in the synagogue.
“We want a piece of paper that says we’re married,” they told us. “Ironically, the only way we can do that is through a religious institution.” The desire for a ketubah morphed into a full-blown wedding, which included a good number of supportive congregants.
A year earlier, this same couple had wanted an anniversary blessing at our Shabbat morning service, but they were concerned because the service was populated mostly by seniors. The seniors knew both women well (the two of them coordinate the volunteers for the luncheon afterwards), but the women feared that they may have thought that the couple were just “really good friends.” Although they typically felt safe in our community–they often mentioned that it was one of the few places they openly held hands–the couple didn’t want to upset anyone by being “in your face” about their relationship.
Their fears, however, were unfounded. Everyone shared in their joy on that day and, a year later, when they invited those same older service-goers to their wedding, one 90+-year-old woman, replied, “I’ll be there with bells on!” And if you look closely at the photograph below, you’ll see: She is wearing actual bells!
I still dream of a day when all communities in the United States can be this joyous in celebrating same-sex unions. In many of my marriage ceremonies, when the marriage license is being signed, I offer a prayer. “This is the only secular part of the marriage ceremony,” I say. “So here I offer a prayer that one day everyone in our country should know the joy of having their marriage legally recognized.”
And when that happens, I want to be there to celebrate. With bells on.
Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-Olam, Shehecheyanu, V’kiyimanu, V’higiyanu lazman hazeh.
Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Ruler of the Universe, for giving us life, sustaining us, and bringing us to this joyous time.
Amen. Selah. Halleluyah.