A congregant commented on my Facebook status this week, saying “Never thought of you as a square.” This was a real compliment. He was referring to the red Human Rights Campaign logo that has been appearing on my news feed all week.
This has been a momentous week for gay rights, human rights, and civil rights. Who could have believed that the US Supreme Court might seriously be leaning toward supporting same-sex marriage?
Who could have imagined the remarkable support for ending DOMA, including all three Republican candidates for Senate in Massachusetts?
My first college roommate in the 1970s raised my consciousness when she came out to me, a year later. In my sophomore year, when the Gay-Straight Alliance was first established on campus, I suddenly saw men and women who I knew and admired in a new light. The norms that I had grown up with were upended. [Back then, we mostly talked about “gays.”]
While in rabbinical school in the 1980s, I added my voice to those who called for accepting and ordaining openly gay and lesbian rabbinical students. The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College was the first seminary to take this step, and the Reconstructionist movement followed suit, helping rabbis find jobs in congregations and havurot in the 1990s. [At that point, we were referring to gays and lesbians.]
When Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex marriage, I received calls from many places to inquire about ceremonies. One couple I knew in Washington, D.C. (Mordecai Kaplan’s granddaughter and her partner) had called in hopes of being married in Massachusetts. Eventually they were able to have a legal ceremony in their home town. Other couples came to me to sign marriage licenses, making official the ceremonies I had performed for them years before. [By 2004, we were using the term LGBT.]
That this has all occurred in one lifetime (or, I’d like to say, half a lifetime) is a kind of “Dayenu” moment. But there is more.
At this month’s conference of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association in New Orleans, I was proud to be present for the installation of Rabbi Jason Klein of Baltimore as the first openly gay man to become President of any rabbinical association. (My colleague and friend, Toba Spitzer, had been installed as the first openly lesbian president of our association in 2007.)
With his usual graciousness, modesty and willingness to serve as a role model, Rabbi Klein said: “Coming out and growing into my adult Jewish identity would not be the same were it not for affirming teachers, rabbis, and other mentors along the way. Now, I am honored to be able to give back by supporting colleagues who are creating welcoming communities in hundreds of settings across North America and beyond.”
At convention, I attended a workshop entitled “Why (not) a Queer Theology.” I learned from my friend and colleague, Rabbi David Dunn Bauer, how the growing acronym LGBTQQA…. could actually be understood within the frame of “queer”—meaning people who are open to a variety of gender and sexual identities. I am still contemplating his profound teachings.
At our business meeting, we approved a new document for our rabbis to think about Jewish identity in new ways. It included guidelines for determining the Jewish identity of children of same-sex couples or born using surrogates and other “alternative” means of procreation. Our colleague Rabbi Rachel Weiss inserted language into the guidelines that made clear that we do not privilege births via heterosexual sex over births via other reproductive technologies. As Rachel said, in her community of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York City, those births are the norm. It was a proud moment when our entire plenum voted to support the changes.
Who knows what the Supreme Court will decide? We will have to be patient until the ruling comes down. But in the meantime, pay attention to the chatter about gay marriage this week. Notice the widespread support for same-sex marriage and the near-universal denunciation of the Defense of Marriage Act. Remember the fierce opposition we faced in Massachusetts in 2004. The opposition has not disappeared—they were certainly in evidence in Washington, D.C. this week. But the momentum has shifted.
As we chant hallel, the ancient psalms of praise, throughout the week of Pesach, let us acknowledge and proclaim these holy words:
hodu l’Adonai ki tov, ki l’olam chasdo, which this week, I translate as:
Give thanks to the Holy One for all the goodness we have received; for love of all kinds is divine and is the most powerful tool we have to recreate our world in God’s image.
With blessings for a loving Pesach holiday!
Rabbi Barbara Penzner