Same-Sex Marriage

The liberal Jewish movements are struggling to balance contemporary morality and Jewish tradition in deciding whether to ritually honor same-sex unions.

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In a December 1996 statement commending the decision of the Circuit Court of Hawaii to recognize same-sex marriages, the Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism said: "The love that God calls us to, the love that binds two people together in a loving and devoted commitment, is accessible to all of God's children. Gay and lesbian couples should have the legal right, as heterosexual couples do, to form such lasting partnerships."

The issue of gay and lesbian Jewish weddings, however, has been more controversial in the Reform movement. In 1997, the CCAR Committee on Responsa voted by a majority of 7 to 2 that homosexual relationships do not fit within the Jewish legal category of kiddushin. It further stated that Jewish marriage does not exist apart from kiddushin. In other words, while the Reform movement supported same-sex civil marriage, it rejected the notion of same-sex Jewish marriage per se.

Three years later, a different conclusion was reached by a much larger body. In March 2000, the CCAR voted overwhelmingly to support colleagues who choose to perform same-sex ceremonies. Their "Resolution on Same Gender Officiation" states, "that the relationship of a Jewish, same gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual." However, the final text of the resolution allowed for individual rabbis to choose not to perform such ceremonies. In addition, it avoided the term kiddushin, leaving open the question of the exact form or Jewish status of the ceremonies. It also called for the development of sample ceremonies to be used as a resource for those rabbis who plan to perform same-sex Jewish weddings.

The Conservative Movement

Until very recently same-sex marriage and other gay and lesbian issues met with little consensus in the Conservative movement. In December 2006 the Law Committee of the Conservative Movement voted to accept two teshuvot (positions), one stating that the Conservative Movement does not authorize same-sex marriages, and one permitting Conservative rabbis to conduct same-sex commitment ceremonies. Then, in June 2012 the Committee of Jewish Law and Standards, voted 13-0 with one abstention to formally approve gay marriage ceremonies. The committee developed two kinds of ceremonies that can be used as a guide for a rabbi marrying a same-sex couple, neither of which contain kiddushin, and also issued a guide to homosexual divorce.

Orthodoxy

While same-sex marriage is commonly discussed in liberal Jewish communities, Orthodox Jewish groups have also voiced their opinions. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (O.U.) has publicly rejected civil and Jewish same-sex marriage. A December 1999 statement explained its position. "While the Orthodox Jewish community in no way condones discrimination against individuals on the basis of their private conduct, we believe that America's moral values and traditions, of which traditional Judaism is a fountainhead, clearly assert that the unique status of marriage is reserved for the sacred union of a man and a woman in a loving relationship."

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Rabbi Amber Powers

Rabbi Amber Powers is Dean of Admissions and Recruitment at The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. She was ordained by The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 2002 and is an alumna of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship.