Local gay and lesbian Jews not surprised by state court ruling

Disappointed but not surprised was how Jewish gay and lesbian couples described their reaction to the California Supreme Court’s decision nullifying their marriages. On Aug. 12, the court ruled that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom had acted unlawfully in issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

With one swift announcement, thousands of marriages — including that of Rabbi Yoel Kahn and his partner Dan Bellm — were voided.

Kahn, director of the Taube Center for Jewish Life at the Jewish Community Center San Francisco and spiritual leader of Sonoma’s Congregation Shir Shalom, noted that “the last line on a ketubah is ‘Hakol sharir v’kayam,’ meaning ‘all is valid and binding.’

“So while the State Supreme Court has suggested that legal status is temporarily not enforceable, it’s still very important for families and couples and their communities to honor and recognize these relationships and marriages,” he said.

Kahn’s reaction was probably typical of the thousands of other couples — both Jewish and not — who waited hours in cold and rainy weather for the opportunity to legally wed at City Hall in February and March.

Craig Persiko, who married his partner Geoffrey Benjamin, both of San Francisco, said that he was not surprised, “especially given that the decision was based on whether Newsom violated state law, and not based on whether there should be gay marriage.”

Kathy Levinson of Palo Alto and Naomi Fine of Oakland were among the first couples to marry at City Hall on Feb. 12.

While the couple has not yet had their Jewish ceremony, immediately following the City Hall ceremony Levinson began referring to Fine as her wife. “Now I don’t know what to call her. She’s certainly not ‘my former wife,'” said Levinson.

Levinson, who has long been active on the issue of gay marriage, said that in the past six months, the couple has actually used their marriage certificate to show their legal partnership, as when Levinson needed surgery. Knowing that gays and lesbians are often denied the right to visit their partners in the hospital, Levinson had thought to bring the certificate with her.

“Showing that certificate was a level of freedom we never had before,” said Levinson. “These past six months, we’ve been filling forms out as a married couple, and now we don’t know what it means.”

P. Alexandra Alznauer called the ruling “an incredible assault on our humanity.” Alznauer married her partner, R. Ruth Linden, and the two divide their time between Berkeley and San Francisco.

Though she could understand the ruling, she still felt the legality of the marriages could have been left alone for now, to be decided upon in the coming months.

“Even though we knew this was going to happen, emotionally we weren’t prepared for this,” she said. “It was like being slugged in the stomach.”

Rabbi Sydney Mintz, a spiritual leader at San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El, married her partner of 10 years, Deborah Newbrun, a director of Camp Tawonga.

Though disappointed, Mintz said she is positive that this was an issue that would not go away.

“There are people who used to think they didn’t know anyone who was gay or lesbian. Now they know people who want to get married,” she said. “The visibility factor has energized the LGBT community.”

And, she noted, when it became legal, she and her partner would celebrate their third wedding. “How many straight people get to register at Bloomingdale’s three times and get three simchas with the same person?”

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."