Reform rabbis to decide in March whether to sanction gay weddings

BOSTON — At their annual meeting set for March in North Carolina, Reform rabbis will vote on a resolution that officially permits them to perform gay wedding ceremonies.

At the moment, the Reform movement does not forbid Reform rabbis from performing gay weddings, nor does it sanction those who do so.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis' resolution would publicly give rabbis the opportunity to choose to perform gay weddings.

Supporting gay rights is not new for the Reform movement. In 1996 the CCAR voted in favor of civil marriages for homosexuals. This was followed by a concurring decision by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

The draft of the resolution that will be presented at the Greensboro meeting concludes: "We do hereby resolve that the relationship of a Jewish, same-gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual and that each rabbi should decide about officiation according to his/her own informed rabbinic conscience."

It further asks the CCAR to "develop both educational and liturgical resources in this area."

"The UAHC position has always been to support civil rights for gays and lesbians," said Jerome Somers, the immediate past chairman of the board of trustees of the UAHC.

UAHC, the congregational body of the Reform movement, is comprised of approximately 900 North American synagogues and is governed by laypeople. The CCAR is the movement's rabbinic association.

One entity playing a key role in the current debate is the Women's Rabbinical Network, the CCAR organization that drafted the resolution.

In effect, this is not the first time the CCAR has considered the topic of its rabbis performing gay weddings. Two years ago, the CCAR declined to make a decision following a series of ad hoc committee resolutions and the work of a responsa committee. The issue was too divisive, said Rabbi Shira Stern, co-president of the WRN.

"This is not a women's issue. This is not a gay and lesbian issue. It's a human issue," Stern said.

The WRN asserts that advocating officiation at gay weddings represented a natural progression for the Reform movement, she said, considering that the CCAR has a history of supporting gay marriages and that there are gay and lesbian Reform rabbis.

Although ratification of the resolution would represent the first official approval of Reform rabbis' participation in gay wedding ceremonies, the rabbis have already displayed support for this change. Last year, approximately 500 of the 1,800 members of the CCAR signed a document voicing their willingness to perform gay weddings.

One bone of contention between supporters and detractors of the resolution hinges on interpretations of Jewish law. Detractors feel that Judaism does not permit the sanctification of marriage between homosexuals, while supporters argue that there is room for personal interpretation.