“What’s Love Got to Do With It?” — Shabbat Ki Tisa 5776/February 26, 2016
I hope many of you remember that for 4½ months in the summer and fall of 2008, same gender marriages were legal for the first time in California. At the time, California became only the second state (after Massachusetts) to legalize marriage between two men or two women. At our congregation, Beth Chayim Chadashim – The House of New Life—we called it the “Summer of Love” because over a 1/3 of the adults in our congregation got married in that little window of time. [In case you don’t know, BCC, our congregation, was founded almost 44 years ago by gay and lesbian Jews to be a safe Jewish haven in a time when other synagogues were not so welcoming as yours is now.]
In the summer of 2008 – that summer of love — even though I didn’t get to officiate at every wedding, I was one busy rabbi, officiating at 43 weddings in 4½ months, PLUS getting legally married to my wife, Tracy Moore. Tracy and I called it our very civil wedding, for we had also stood together under a chupah right here in this very sanctuary in 1995, on our 10th anniversary. This past November Tracy and I celebrated 30 years together, but like many couples we know, we have multiple anniversaries to choose from – our Jewish wedding in 1995, our CA domestic partnership registration in 1999, our Civil Union ceremony in Vermont in the summer of 2000, our civil wedding recognized by the State of California in 2008.
The two Supreme Court decisions on same sex marriage that we’ve heard so much about – Edie Windsor’s 2013 case and James Obergefell’s last summer — finally brought full marriage equality to the United States with all its rights and responsibilities.1 With much rejoicing, weddings in our community began again in earnest with the Supreme Court’s Windsor ruling in 2013 and all the more so last summer.
I understand that you all have been studying “Love” in Jewish tradition this month. Did you happen to notice which anniversary came first in that long list I just gave of the many anniversaries of Tracy and Lisa? Yes, it was our Jewish wedding in 1995 – standing under a chupah with two rabbis officiating turned out to be the easiest hurdle to jump in our long road to marriage. In fact, no hurdle at all by the time we stood here — only a warm embrace by loved ones as well as by “official” representatives of Reform Judaism.
By the way, I don’t usually talk about myself or Tracy this much, but we happen to be a good example of what I do want to talk with you about tonight.
Maybe it was the thought of being in your sanctuary that made me want to reminisce our chupah ceremony here (though, full disclosure, our congregation, BCC, gathers here annually for our Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, so I already feel right at home).
Or maybe it’s this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa, where the story of the golden calf comes to show us what the Israelites and Moses and God learned the hard way – for Parashat Ki Tisa comes to remind us that golden calves come in all shapes and sizes and can distract us from what’s really important – our love for one another — and that that love takes effort and understanding and commitment and a willingness to communicate with and pay attention to each other.
Or maybe it’s Rabbi Klein asking if I would “talk about the changing (or not changing) Jewish understanding of love while answering,” as she put it, “Rabbi Tina Turner’s age old question, ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It?’”
And indeed, when you hear that long list of legal hoops we (and so many couples) jumped through to get to marriage, we might begin to wonder what love does have to do with it.
But in fact, it has everything to do with it. And as Moses and God and the Israelites remind us, not just love between spouses. When Tracy and I stood under the chupah here in 1995 about 275 people joined us to celebrate, including about a dozen rabbis and cantors. That community of friends, colleagues, family, congregants who crowded in here in support of us – love had a lot to do with that too.
The impulse of Jews to encourage couples to marry – that goes way back. According to one midrash (Jewish legend) Adam and Eve were created and got married on the SAME day. And you thought someone in your family rushed into marriage!
How can this be? asks the midrash, a birth day and a wedding day for the same people on the very same day?
and think about it a moment, you already know the answer: Adam and Eve2, says the midrash, came into the world fully grown –they were created as 20 year olds.3
Now, some of us might question whether 20 year olds can be called fully grown, but you get the point. Unlike the rest of us, those first human beings came into being already seeking or some might say, already wanting, a spouse.
Jewish tradition loves weddings and marriage.
Perhaps some of you will recognize the following words from the Bible:
Where you go I will go
where you lodge I will lodge
your people are my people
and your God my God4
OR THESE WORDS:
With you I make this covenant,
For I love you as my soul.
Journey with me in peace
And the Holy One shall be
With you and with me5
Perhaps some of you said some of these same words at your own weddings. Through the generations many couples have spoken them, prompted by ministers and rabbis “to repeat after me,” and obediently countless grooms do so, speaking tenderly to their brides, and their brides repeat the words gently back to them.
But at a wedding between a man and a woman, who remembers that those words: “where you go I will go” were originally spoken by a woman to a woman (by Ruth to Naomi), or that “I love you as my soul…” were words spoken in the Bible between Jonathan and David?6
Love has everything to do with it, no matter the genders of the lovers who speak so sweetly to one another.
One of the happy artworks that came out of the marriage equality campaign was a drawing of Lady Liberty planting a romantic kiss on the lips of Lady Justice 7–
Jews too know something about the pursuit of liberty and the pursuit of justice – tzedek, tzedek tirdof as it says right here over your ark (“justice, justice, you shall pursue”) [Deuteronomy 16:20] — and yes, Jews know something about the pursuit of happiness too.
In the decades long walk down the aisle that the LGBT community has been taking to get to legal marriage, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many leaders of that walk are Jews. For example, all the many rabbis (including yours here at Temple Isaiah) who spoke out for marriage equality and happily officiate at same weddings whenever they can.
So many of the attorneys working marriage equality through the courts and the states — Evan Wolfson who first put the issue on the front burner, Marc Solomon who steered the marriage campaign in Massachusetts – the first state to legalize it, the tireless John Davidson and Jenny Pizer of the LA LAMBDA LEGAL office, and Roberta Kaplan, attorney to Edie Windsor in her 2013 Supreme Court case (Kaplan is speaking right now about this over at American Jewish University). And that’s a very short list of names, it’s leaving out many people, many of them Jewish. I thank them all.
So what is the big deal with legal marriage? Why all the fuss? What does love have to do with it? Or Judaism? Along this long walk down the aisle, phrases have become familiar. Among them:
The Right to marry
Freedom to marry
A Basic civil right
“a central institution of the Nation’s society.” As Justice Anthony Kennedy called marriage in last summer’s decision]8
Those phrases are part of what’s transformative about the Supreme Court’s decisions (and all the decisions leading up to them)– it doesn’t matter whether any of us choose marriage or not, it’s the fact that now everyone is included as equals in this central narrative.
And if you question the presence of marriage in the central narrative of Judaism – recall the midrash marrying off Adam & Eve on the very day they were created. Or think a moment about the traditional blessing Jews offer at the baby namings of our children – a blessing that each child grow into a life of Torah, of chupah/of family life we sometimes say these days, and of good deeds – l’Torah u’l-chupah u’l-ma-a-sim tovim .
You as an individual may not be interested in marriage in general, you may never be interested in marriage for yourself, and that’s fine – marriage is not for everyone — but regardless of your marital status and marital choices and views on marriage, everyone’s status is different now because everyone’s status changes when what was once a privilege offered to some becomes a right guaranteed to all. It’s about civil rights, and access, and the differences in how people look at one another, and come to understand the relationships they see and are a part of.
Since that “summer of love” in 2008, I have come to understand love in Jewish tradition, and marriage in general, differently than I did before then.
For all that summer all up and down the state of California, same sex couples raised their hands to testify the truth of the information on their marriage license applications; all summer long they vowed to one another their mutual promises of commitment; all summer long I and many other happy officiants, signed our names to one legal California marriage license after another.
And of the many weddings I was part of or attended that summer, about half of them were of couples who had already had a Jewish wedding or commitment ceremony, and way more than half were couples who had been together for more than 20 years, some more than 30, one even for 50 years. Weddings are moving in a different way when the couples saying vows have been together for decades. And they are powerful in a different way when the words spoken between a couple have been spoken between them before — this time they get to say yes, I would marry you again. I do …I do marry you again.
That summer of love and all the court decisions since then that led to marriage equality changed not only the way I think about love and marriage, it also changed the way I talk about marriage at wedding ceremonies. For since last summer’s Supreme Court decision bringing marriage equality to the entire United States and its territories (except Samoa), I often add a pronouncement just before the kiss and the breaking of the glass. I say:
PRONOUNCEMENT: It’s been quite a journey for many, many people in many places to get here, but here we are indeed, in a place and a time and amidst a loving group of people where I can happily say:
By the power vested in me by
Jewish tradition and
by the California Supreme Court,
and by The United States District Court for the Northern District of California,
the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit,
the United States Supreme Court,
the government of the State of California,
and the federal government of the United States of America,
I now pronounce you wives to each other
(or I now pronounce you husbands to each other)
by Jewish tradition and by the laws of our land.
While many laugh to hear that long list, others cry …
For the long years of work to get here; for the many who went without – without protections, without benefits, without children – including the widows and widowers whose poignant, plaintive cases helped the judges see and understand and call for change; and for the affirmation – finally after all these years – of family and friends and co-workers and yes, of caterers and cake makers and wedding planners and county marriage license officials and ketubah artists and florists and tuxedo and dress designers (well, the florists and dress designers always understood it!) and the affirmation of the clergy and judges and justices of the peace who see in the eyes of these couples the dreams come true and… oh yes, the love.
And that Rabbi Zoe Klein, that’s what love has to do with it!
1. Windsor v. United States and Obergefell v. Hodges came thanks to 5 of the Supreme Court justices. For more details see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Same-sex_marriage_in_the_United_States
2. Midrash VaYikrah Rabah beginning Parshah 29 (on Emor)
3. Midrash Rabba Breishis 14:7//midrashim found in http://www.askmoses.com/en/article/693,95512/The-Soul-Reason-For-Choosing-a-Mate.html by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh
4. Ruth 1:16
5. I Samuel 18:3, 20:42 (adapted), see also I Samuel, 23:18, 2 Samuel 1:26
6. The narrative voice in the Jonathan and David story describes their covenant and their love [I Samuel 18:1,3] “Jonathan & David sealed a covenant, for each loved the other like his own soul.”
7. At the end of February 2004, New York illustrator and graphic designer Mirko Ilic had an assignment: come up with a meaningful image about gay marriage and the legal battles that were beginning to foment.
8. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony writing for the majority in Obergefell v. Hodges making same-sex marriage legal nationwide:
“Same-sex couples are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would deem intolerable in their own lives. As the State itself makes marriage all the more precious by the significance it attaches to it, exclusion from that status has the effect of teaching that gays and lesbians are unequal in important respects. It demeans gays and lesbians for the State to lock them out of a central institution of the Nation’s society.”
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/06/supreme-court-justices-opinions-memorable-quotes-gay-marriage-119477#ixzz41GQIXYGL