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Letter from California

The last time I wrote for Lilith, I had recently celebrated my commitment ceremony, a day of unparalleled joy for me and my wife. (See cover below.) However, as we sanctified our union before our community, a part of us still mourned the fact that we were considered unfit for legal marriage. Three years later Arielle and I are living in California. We rejoiced when the State Supreme Court proclaimed that gays and lesbians should be granted the right to marry. On June 25th, we stood in a garden before a handful of friends and an officiant who married us under California law. My eyes filled with tears when I said “I do.” We were finally equal under the law.

In recent months, the restrictive marriage policies within Israel have come under fire. The Israeli branch of Conservative Judaism, the Masorti movement, has taken an active role in changing the law which mandates an Orthodox wedding in order to become legally wed. It doesn’t matter if the couple isn’t Orthodox, or if they practice Buddhism. There is only one way, one form of religious practice that is seen as worthy of legal recognition. It is this stranglehold over marriage that has for years pushed the non-Orthodox to travel abroad to get a civil marriage. The Masorti movement has been working to help people who aren’t comfortable with Orthodox parameters find a way to a ceremony they truly celebrate. Their new campaign, called “Play The Wedding Game,” is an online platform where couples are invited to customize a wedding ceremony congruent with their own wishes and religious beliefs.

This is an important step in creating a pluralistic approach towards marriage, as is the California decision. We should celebrate this move towards equality. The legal covenant that underlies marriage shouldn’t be confused with a moral authority that underlies religion. This is not to say that religion and marriage don’t mix. My partner and I wanted to have a religious wedding ceremony, but we also wanted to have the legal imprimatur.

Whether gay or non-Orthodox, or both, people who cannot claim mainstream identity should not be barred from the legal and social benefits that marriage confers. Perhaps it’s time to look at marriage through the lens of diversity. Just as we respect biodiversity in the natural world, we should honor it too in a social framework.