The Conservative branch of American Judaism has formally approved same-sex marriage ceremonies, nearly six years after lifting a ban on ordaining gays and lesbians.
The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards issued the ruling Thursday on a 13-0 vote with one abstention, said Rabbi Elliot Dorff, the committee chairman. The panel of scholars approved two model wedding ceremonies and guidelines for a same-sex divorce. Rabbis can adapt the marriage ceremonies for the couples.
"We acknowledge that these partnerships are distinct from those discussed in the Talmud as `according to the law of Moses and Israel,' but we celebrate them with the same sense of holiness and joy as that expressed in heterosexual marriages," the legal opinion states.
Conservative Judaism is the second-largest Jewish movement in North America and holds a middle ground between liberal and traditional groups. The Reform and Reconstructionist branches accept gay relationships, while the stricter Orthodox Jewish movement does not. The Conservative law committee lifted the ban on gay ordination in December 2006.
'Covenant of Loving Partners' (Photo: Reuters)
Called the "Covenant of Loving Partners," the Conservative same-sex marriage document bases the ceremonies on Jewish partnership law. In the covenant, the couple pledges to be faithful. A ring ceremony binds the pair.
And as with heterosexual couples, Conservative rabbis should not preside at the marriage of a Jew to a non-Jew.
However, the ceremonies do not include kiddushin, or sanctification, in which a groom "acquires" a bride by giving her a ring, which is considered the core of a traditional Jewish wedding. In recent decades, many rabbis have already been altering that part of the ceremony for heterosexual couples by having the bride and groom exchange rings, to signal equality in the marriage.
"The result is still a Jewish marriage," the legal opinion on gay marriage states.
Dorff, an author of the ruling, said the committee's discussions with gays and lesbians as the ceremonies were developed found a split in opinion that led the two templates for same-sex marriage. One adheres more closely to the traditional Jewish ceremony, while the other doesn't.
The divorce includes a "writ of dissolution" – similar to what is known in traditional Jewish marriage as a "get" – that either partner in the same-sex marriage can request.
Dorff said he did not know how many members of the movement's Rabbinical Assembly perform same-sex marriages. However, many rabbis had already been conducting ceremonies for gays and lesbians that they had developed on their own. Keshet, which advocates for gay and lesbian Jews, has started a public database of rabbis who would perform the ceremony called The Equality Guide.