This past weekend I had the privilege of officiating at a wedding of two sweet men in Philadelphia. They are members of Congregation B’nai Olam, the congregation in Fire Island Pines where I have served for the last seventeen years as the high holy day rabbi.
I have officiated at many weddings since becoming a rabbi, some straight and many gay. Some have been legal, though a good number of the gay weddings I officiated at before 2011 were not. They have all been special and beautiful in their own ways. Some have been particularly special, like when I officiated at weddings of close friends and relatives. But this wedding was its own kind of special.
First the personal. Of course, every wedding is personal. This lovely couple was together for forty-two years and fifty-one weeks before becoming legally married. That is mind-boggling – both the capacity to stay together through thick and thin, and despite the lack official sanction, and also the fact that they can now legally get married. What a blessing that was, to be able to stand together under the chuppah, supported by their family members, including the 95 year old mother of one of them. As they said to me, they never in their wildest dreams imagined that this day would come.
And that’s where it becomes historic. As soon as gay marriage became legal last year in Pennsylvania, they set a date and called me. The time had come. And so almost exactly a year to the date that gay marriage became legal in Pennsylvania, they got married. What a blessing this was too, that their own state would recognize their marriage. The date of this past weekend becomes even more dramatic when you realize that this wedding was also three days before the Supreme Court is poised to hear arguments that will hopefully lead to gay marriage becoming the law of the land.
There was another level of history as well, one which was perhaps only significant to me as the rabbi, but important nevertheless. This wedding was also the first one I officiated at using L’chol Zman v’Eit: The CCAR Life Cycle Guide commonly known informally as the “rabbi’s manual”. Having worked with Rabbi Don Goor, editor of the guide, for several years on this project, I was very excited to finally get to use it.
As Don and I worked on the guide, one of the guiding principles of our work was that a wedding was a wedding, no matter the gender of the couple. This was a natural outgrowth of the historic stances CCAR has long taken in support of LGBTQ issues in general, and gay marriage in particular. We wanted to create liturgy that was beautiful and fit the unique moment, with enough options to meet the needs of different kinds of couples. We wanted to break down the wall between a “normative” wedding and “non-normative” wedding. In planning the ceremony with this couple, I was pleased to see how well the material in the guide worked, and how easy it was to customize it for them. The fact that all the material I needed to meet their needs was there in the guide also sent an important message, that the CCAR and its rabbis fully accept and support marriage equality. This too is a blessing.
Siman Tov u’Mazel Tov!
Rabbi Hara Person is Publisher of CCAR Press at the Central Conference of American Rabbis.