In honor of the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act, I’m reposting this article from my previous website/blog.
Philadelphia Inquirer, March 8, 2004
Friends of mine, after several years living together, decided it was time to announce publicly their commitment to each other and to celebrate the permanence of their relationship. They met with a rabbi for premarital counseling. They set a date. They reserved a hall, hired a caterer, ordered flowers, mailed out invitations.
The ceremony was, as they always are, touching and sentimental and moving. It was an all-white wedding, with one of them in a formal gown and veil, and the other in a beautifully fitted suit. They stood under a chuppah, a canopy made from a large prayer shawl suspended on poles held by four of those closest to them. They shared wine from the same cup, exchanged rings and promises. The rabbi read from the Ketubah, the contract setting out their promises to each other. They broke the wineglass, and everyone shouted “Mazal Tov!”
It was a scene repeated thousands of times every week all over the world for millennia. But there was one major difference – both members of this couple were women. The ceremony did not take place on the steps of the San Francisco City Hall, or in Vermont, or in Massachusetts. It was right here in South Jersey just over two years ago. Today, they live just like their neighbors in their typical Marlton subdivision, mowing the lawn, paying their taxes, raising their baby girl, attending and volunteering at their synagogue. There was only one major difference between their commitment ceremony and a wedding between a man and a woman: their marriage is not registered or sanctioned by the state.
Religious leaders of various faiths and denominations have been conducting such ceremonies for years. The first one I can recall, between a woman I know and her partner, was held about 20 years ago. I am sure there were earlier ones as well.
For many of us, the religious ceremony takes precedence over the secular. In fact, except for applying for a marriage license and taking a blood test, there is no separate secular ceremony. It’s almost like getting a dog license: you show a medical affidavit (blood test for humans, rabies shots for dogs), fill out a form, pay a fee, get a signature (religious leader or judge for humans, clerk for dogs), and then put the certificate in a safe place in case you need it some day.
When my husband and I married, almost 28 years ago, we wrote our own Ketubah. It is that document which we had a calligrapher hand-copy and illustrate and which hangs on our living room wall. Our marriage license from Philadelphia, embossed with the Liberty Bell in honor of the Bicentennial year, is in our safe deposit box, along with our insurance policies and wills and passports.
It has been suggested that same-sex couples be registered after ceremonies called civil unions, while opposite-sex couples will continued to be registered after being married. In this way, say the proponents of the proposal, same-sex couples can receive the same civil guarantees – life insurance, inheritance, etc. – as married couples without using the word “marriage.”
I propose a different suggestion. Any two consenting adults, whether of the same or opposite sex, who wish to commit themselves to living their lives together, can be registered by the state as domestic partners. Marriage, which is considered a sacred bond, will remain within the boundaries of religion. In that way, those who wish to consecrate their love for each other can continue to do so, as they have for at least 20 years, by finding a religious leader whom they respect and who respects them; those that do not care about a religious ceremony can still receive the civil protections which are now given only to opposite-sex “legally married” couples.
As for that couple who got married in a Jewish ceremony 20 years ago, they are still together. How many opposite-sex couples who married that year can say the same?