What's Different about Gay Wedding Ceremonies?
BY: Rabbi Miriam Jerris
Nothing! A Secular Humanistic Jewish wedding ceremony rejoices in the love of two individuals regardless of whether they are two persons of the same, or different, genders. The ceremonies that I celebrate focus on the two people pledging their love. They are personal and individual. They reflect the backgrounds of the participants by incorporating rituals or symbols from their respective cultural or religious upbringings. However, while we incorporate symbols from religious traditions, the focus in a humanistic or secular ceremony is on the human aspects of their union rather than on any particular religion.
As a Secular Humanistic rabbi who is also intermarried, I feel it is my obligation to serve the needs of Jews and their partners by performing intermarriages and incorporating cultural traditions from each of the couple's backgrounds. I felt this way before I was a rabbi and before I was intermarried. It is my passion to honor individuals and my love of my Jewish heritage that led me to this commitment.
In preparing for a wedding ceremony, I share sample materials with the couple. They choose the symbols or traditions from their cultural or religious backgrounds that they wish to include in their ceremony. In a typical Jewish-Christian gay wedding ceremony, you may find achuppah
, or wedding canopy, the drinking of wine, a unity candle, readings, and a breaking of the glass. I explain the significance, symbolism, and sometimes the origins of the traditions. My goal is to be warm and inclusive so that all the participants and observers feel engaged by and connected to the experience.
When I began working with intermarried couples more than eighteen years ago, I remember how strongly I felt about what I was doing. There were so few Jewish clergy willing to embrace the couple forwho
they were rather thanwhat
they were. I also felt that I was marrying people, not labels. I knew that what I was doing mattered to the couple and to their families. This sense of making a difference was a compelling motivator to continue to do intercultural work when the Jewish community was rejecting and sometimes even hostile. Participating in ceremonies that celebrate gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender unions generates, in some circles, the same type of reaction today. I know that I am doing something that is very much appreciated.