Tuesday, November 29, 2005



The Times
November 25, 2005Liberal Jews pioneer gay marriage services

By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
RABBIS from Britain’s Jewish community have become the first mainstream religious grouping to authorise a gay marriage service.
Liberal Judaism, which counts Michael Howard and Michael Grade among its adherents, has produced a new liturgy, Covenant of Love, to coincide with the Civil Partnership Act, which takes effect on December 5.
In accompanying literature, Liberal Judaism says the ceremony may be described as a “wedding” by rabbis and follows the format of a traditional Jewish wedding service under the chuppah or canopy and with the ceremonial breaking of glass symbolising the brokenness of the world. It also includes a same-sex version of the seven blessings said at heterosexual Jewish weddings.
The service, in a booklet read from right to left and printed in Hebrew and English, invokes God as the “divine presence” who embraces both male and female. It warns the happy couple as they begin their new lives as consecrated partners: “We remember that we live in a world as yet unredeemed, where joys and sorrows, love and hatred, acceptance and prejudice are commingled.”
There are 33 Liberal congregations in the UK, and the community numbers about 12,000. Of the 31 rabbis who belong to the movement’s Rabbinic Conference, four are lesbian and two are gay. The flagship Liberal Jewish Synagogue in St John’s Wood, North London, is one of the best-known synagogues in the world.
Rabbi Alexandra Wright, senior rabbi at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, said she would be offering the new liturgy to anyone who asked for a gay wedding. “It is consistent with the religious and ethical principles to which Liberal Judaism adheres, namely that each individual is created in the divine image and that, regardless of sexuality or gender, all are equal. It would be unethical for us to discriminate against members on grounds of sexuality.”
Rabbi Roderick Young, a member of both the Reform and Liberal movements, this year went to Canada, where gay weddings are legal, to marry his partner David Mooney. He said: “I applaud the Liberal movement for doing this. It is fantastic.”
Rabbi Danny Rich, chief executive of Liberal Judaism, said: “We are not worried it will be controversial although we expect it may be. It is a matter of justice for us.”
The Reform movement, which trains its rabbis alongside Liberal rabbis at Leo Baeck College in North London, is still considering its response to the Civil Partnership Act.
The Orthodox movement, headed by the Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, refuses to entertain the concept.
Rabbi Dr Julian Shindler, of the Office of the Chief Rabbi, said: “There is no prospect of the mainstream Orthodox community permitting same-sex commitment or marriage ceremonies. Orthodox Jews are bound by biblical and rabbinic law, which only condones sexual relationships between a man and a woman who are married.”
Bishops in the Church of England have ruled out a blessing service for couples joined in civil partnership, although many clergy are expected to perform them illicitly to meet pastoral need. The Vatican has ruled that gay men cannot go to seminary if they are sexually active or, if their homosexuality is “transitory”, unless they have been celibate for three years.

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