The Transformative Power of the First Legal Gay (and Interfaith) New York Wedding
You might not guess this, but it can be easier to find a liberal rabbi to officiate a same-sex wedding than to find one to officiate a Jewish wedding for an interfaith couple. This Saturday night at midnight, I will be officiating the first legal gay wedding in the State of New York. The couple found me in Massachusetts through www.InterfaithFamily.com’s free Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service, after being turned away by several rabbis in the NY area.
What never ceases to amaze me is the dedication some interfaith couples have to finding Jewish connection in this important celebration in their family’s life. It also doesn’t surprise me that a gay interfaith couple, which faces potential discrimination on several fronts, continues to search for that connection as well. Thankfully we have this web based service, and the dedication of its staff to equality, that makes it possible.
I have worked with www.InterfaithFamily.com for several years, but began officiating and co-officiating interfaith weddings 20 years ago. It was both the high level of acceptance my religious Jewish family had towards people of diversity, and my own struggle as a gay man to find connection in the religious heritage I deeply loved, that moved me to make it easier for people to find connection here as well. Reform Judaism has been full of social justice activities and drive for the world around us, but is only in the past decades seeing the challenge it places on its own committed members and potential members, by not welcoming both GLBT and interfaith couples in a bigger way.
There has been a shift in both the welcoming of GLBT and interfaith families of recent past, but institutional change is slow and haphazard. Gay, lesbian and transgender rabbis are welcome to study for ordination, but the prayer books, religious school materials and social conversations still refer to heterosexual families as primary and desired. Interfaith programming has increased and many of the congregations in our liberal movements are more than 40% interfaith families. However, the leadership of the movement still can’t accept an interfaith married person into the rabbinic school. And, with a nearly 50% or greater number of Jews in interfaith partnerships and marriages nationally, the liberal Jewish movements still see them as a minority when it comes to programming and organizational decision making.
It is both the GLBT and interfaith nature of this wedding, with its high profile status as the first legal gay wedding in NY, that may give us the power to move the liberal Jewish world further in its path toward internal acceptance of all its diversity. With the liberal Jewish world coming around to the reality it faces, of both interfaith and gay families (some living in the same households) making Jewish choices, there can be great strength in changing the nature of acceptance of diversity on a national level. As much as this wedding is a triumph for same-sex families, we still have a lot of work to do to bring national value to acceptance of the full diversity of our populous.
May this wedding be not just the first of many in NY, but the gentle push forward that makes room for other states and other religious movements to open their doors wide to the people who already love so much of what we value as a free and inclusive society.
Lev is a Reform Rabbi and the Director of the Resource Center for Jewish Clergy at Interfaithfamily.com. Lev can be found teaching courses on Jewish living and life cycles, and facilitating workshops on ‘Inclusion and Welcoming’ of unaffiliated Jews and interfaith families in Jewish life and community. In his spare time, Lev travels the world officiating life cycle events for Jewish and interfaith/intercultural couples and families. Lev was ordained in the Reform Movement of Judaism in 1994, holds a law degree from Yeshiva University, a BA in Psychology from Clark University, and is currently attending Regis College/ Lawrence Memorial Hospital School of Nursing (RN). Lev lives in Malden, MA with his partner Andrew.