Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Remembering a 1993 Gay Wedding

In response to my friend Jeff Hersh's request, I have unearthed the comments I made at his wedding in 1993. Some things have changed a great deal (it's no problem today to register two grooms at Williams-Sonoma, for instance), but many fundamentals haven't changed.

Almost exactly fifteen years ago, I not only attended my first gay wedding, but I was asked to speak as part of the ceremony. The ceremony was well-attended by family on both sides, including cousins, nieces, nephews, and an 84-year old great-grandmother, about 120 people in all. The ceremony included speeches by both grooms, and by the judge who presided. It concluded with the grooms' signing of a calligraphed parchment which was a legal contract including exchange of durable powers of attorney, then duly notarized by a lesbian friend and notary public, and then signed by all guests in attendance as legal witnesses. And both grooms stomped on wine glasses simultaneously as the crowd cheered "Mazel Tov!".

In my introduction speech, I attempted to explain the full meaning of this event to this largely straight and Jewish gathering...

June 19, 1993

Most of us here, myself included, have never seen the wedding of two men before. In fact, neither have Doug and Jeff. They're making it up as they go along. In some ways, this is a traditional wedding like any other---two people who are exchanging vows of lifelong love and commitment. Obviously, in other ways, it is non-traditional. I'd like to try to explain some of the special significance that this wedding holds.

There is a movement in modern Judaism called the Reconstructionist movement. The Reconstructionists are like Reform Jews in that they do not accept tradition without questioning: they do not want rote ritual devoid of modern personal meaning. For them, "because the book says so" or "because my grandparents did it that way" are not sufficient reasons for religious practice. Yet many Reconstructionists end up looking like Conservative Jews, continuing a great many of the traditional practices by coming up with modern symbolic interpretations for the old ways. A Reconstructionist is someone who takes all of the items of their faith, and considers each one, whether it is truly meaningful or whether it should be abandoned---just as someone packing to move to a new home goes through each of their possessions and decides whether to keep it or whether to leave it behind.

To be gay is to be Reconstructionist about one's whole life. All of us---gay or straight, Jewish or not Jewish---receive from our culture ideas about how we will live our lives. We come to know the expectations of our society, as we see the examples of how our family and friends live, and as we learn the hopes and dreams they have for themselves and for us. And from this rich pool of ideas, we come to shape our own vision of how we will live our lives.

But some of us have a crisis point in our lives that calls everything into question. For the first 20 years of my life, I had always pictured myself growing up to lead a life not unlike my parents: being a career engineer like my father, falling in love with a woman, getting married, having children. Then I discovered that I was gay. Every hope, every dream, every idea I had ever had about how my life would unfold seemed shattered beyond repair. And there was nothing to replace it. Family, friends, society offered no examples, no visions of what a good life for a gay man might be like. Slowly, after months and years of coming out to friends and family, of discovering a whole gay community, and of discovering that some of my own friends were also gay (including the boy who grew up next door), I have rebuilt a positive vision of what my life could and should be like.

Thus, coming out as a gay man or woman means being a Reconstructionist in a radical way. It is more than moving to a new home and sifting through your old possessions. It is like having your home burn down to the ground. While losing your home and all your worldly possessions is obviously traumatic, it is also a unique opportunity to measure which things in your life are truly essential. When a new home is built out of the ashes, every piece is carefully considered and nothing is taken for granted. While the new home is necessarily different from the old one, old ideas which are still good are reconstructed in the new. Thus, Doug and Jeff, in constructing their vision of living as gay men, have chosen to incorporate the tradition of marriage and a wedding.

Unlike many couples, Doug and Jeff do not marry today because it was expected of them or encouraged. It was not. They will not live their lives as a married couple because it will be easy, a well-worn path of least resistance. It will not be easy. Some of you, like my mother, may have encountered some trouble trying to find their wedding gift registry at Williams-Sonoma. It seems their computers and their personnel get a bit flustered when there are two grooms and no bride. This is just a small taste of the hundreds of denials and discountenances that Doug and Jeff will face. They have given their decision to wed a great deal of reflection and consideration, and they are here today, not because it is easy or expected or encouraged, but only for the best of reasons. Despite the difficulties they may face, they freely and knowingly choose to celebrate their love and their lifelong commitment to each other in loving partnership. As friends and family, we are an important part of this ceremony. Since the state will not recognize this marriage, and society will not encourage it, we must vow to give them our encouragement, our love, and our support in their commitment.

Jewish tradition teaches us that we have a special purpose in this world called tikun olam, the completion of creation. The rabbis say that when G*d created the world, He intentionally created it unfinished, so that we would have this purpose in our lives: to complete the job of creation. The world is like a huge, brilliant, beautiful jigsaw puzzle that G*d created, but left for us to assemble. Only at the end of time will the puzzle be completed and the whole picture revealed, but through our lives, each of us will contribute a part, will put a piece in place, and another part of the picture will become clear. Doug and Jeff's marriage is a fulfillment of the Jewish mission of tikun olam. The satisfaction they have found in their union is the satisfaction of two puzzle pieces being put together. Just as two pieces assembled show more of the picture than either piece by itself, the union of these two men will contribute more to the world than could two individuals separately. And as the picture revealed by two assembled pieces increases the momentum to put more pieces together, Jeff and Doug's example will provide a light to others and contribute a new positive gay vision to our culture. Today in their marriage, we witness and we celebrate the further creation of the world.

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