[This article was originally commissioned by the Jewish Chronicle, but run in a much shorter version]
Since my own wedding, ten years ago, I’ve had the honour of celebrating, as Rabbi, almost 200 weddings. I’ve seen babies be welcomed into the Jewish covenant and Bar Mitzvah kids become adults, I’ve celebrated long marriages, and sat on religious courts witnessing divorce. It’s given me a certain insight into why and how people seek out a life partner – and what happens next. I’ve celebrated and commiserated with an entire range of those who come from strong nuclear families and also broken families and families full of anger. This web of experience has made me believe every more strongly in the holiness and beauty of married life.
I believe the desire to stand before God, families and friends and, in the name of a shared Jewish tradition, commit to a particular kind of loving commitment is rooted very deeply – certainly I feel it myself. This is why I support creating and supporting Jewish same-sex marriage ceremonies. This is why I am delighted the movement I serve, Masorti Judaism, is supporting its Rabbis and member Synagogues in choosing whether to perform such ceremonies both as religious ceremonies and also as civilly recognised marriages. As a Rabbi, a husband and a fellow Jew, I can’t turn to a gay or lesbian Jew and deny them, in the name of the tradition I love, the strength I find in the ceremonies and rituals of hetrosexual marriage.
I’m know the Halachah, but the answer to the need gay and lesbian couples feel for committed loving companionship cannot come from a bare statement of Jewish law. Lesbian sexual activity is categorised in Halachah as an issur lav, that’s the same categorisation as applies to married women who uncover their hair – but I officiate for brides who won’t forevermore cover their hair. One form of gay sexual activity is prohibited by direct Torah mandate, that’s the same categorisation as applies to couples who engage in intercourse at certain points in the menstrual cycle – but I don’t extract sworn promises from straight couples that they will always follow rules of taharat hamishpacha – family purity.
I also know many of the non-legal Rabbinic commentaries on same-sex and hetrosexual coupling. One Midrash suggests Sodom was destroyed because its inhabitants wrote marriage contracts for gay couples. Maybe, but to my eyes the great sin of Sodom was of violent hatred, not committed love. Another Rabbinic text teaches ‘no man without woman and no woman without man.’ I have some empathy for those who claim hetrosexual coupling is ‘more natural,’ and also for those who claim children are best supported by having both male and female parents. But having a male and a female parent is no guarantee of a loving supported environment for children. More than that many of the same-sex families I know seem so attuned to the complex challenges of gendered parenting that these kinds of argument don’t move me to seek to deny same-sex couples or families the blessings of a religious ceremony.
Same-sex ceremonies can’t follow word-for-word the traditional hetrosexual model, based as it is, on kinyan, literally the acquisition of a woman by a man. But they should look like and sound like a Jewish wedding. It may feel odd at first, but comfort is not the goal by which all Jewish practice should be judged. The goal, for me, is to support Jews in finding a life-partner to love and with whom they can create a beit neeman b’yisrael – a faithful home in Israel. As the Torah teaches, ‘it’s not good for a person to be alone.’