Using power vested in me to empower my relationship

I became a rabbi in 2000, and for the past 13 years I have been in the awkward position of signing marriage licenses for other couples that could not be issued to me and my same-sex partner.

We have been together for 19 years and have taken advantage of every opportunity to have our union celebrated — by whomever would recognize it.

We married for the first time in 2000. We married a second time when we moved to California in 2001, signing a domestic partnership agreement that was, for us, a monumental first legal step. In February 2004, we rushed to San Francisco’s City Hall to celebrate with thousands as Mayor Gavin Newsom opened the doors for gay couples to marry. In 2008, we married once again in a dear friend’s backyard, by this time weary with late nights taking care of two small children (and, although still very much in love, exhausted from getting married). At each turn, I felt deep gratitude for the age in which I was born.

All of our weddings were momentous, but the first wedding was the one that was “real” for us. We were wed before there was a lot of talk about same-sex weddings. We found that many of our friends didn’t even know that we couldn’t marry legally, while others asked us why we were doing it if it had no legal ramifications.

For us, it was clear that legality would be important if it ever arrived, but that we were governed by other forces as well. Ours was a Jewish wedding. A wedding in front of our friends, colleagues and the members of our families who could stand it. We spoke vows that my partner wrote in Hebrew and in English: With this ring, you are made holy to me in the eyes of this community. We cherished the presence of each and every guest who helped make it the very real wedding that it was.

Amid a political climate in which it is assumed that “religious” and “gay” are polarized categories, we did what so many had done before us. Our relationship was solemnized within the loving embrace of a spiritual community.

For decades, various religious communities have been the trailblazers, sanctifying same-sex, bisexual and transgender unions before gay marriage made headlines and became the political struggle of a generation.

For those religious groups that have actively fought against not just gay marriage but LGBT inclusion more largely defined, there is much work to be done. And that work is being done largely from within the walls of even the most confining religious traditions, by courageous individuals who are both loud and quiet in their struggles. There is no spiritual community that is not engaging in this question in some way, and one can find an LGBT contingent in almost every religion in the country.

I cannot separate LGBT rights from religion, perhaps because I know too intimately the texts that have been shouted at LGBT people for centuries. For better or for worse, these issues have been uncomfortably holding hands for a very long time. In light of the Supreme Court ruling, I see this as the moment to engage in a conversation beyond the knee-jerk dichotomization of religion vs. LGBT rights.

We should feel compelled to learn about how various religious traditions are reading and creatively rereading their own difficult texts in light of current theologies and scholarship. We must lift up the voices of LGBT people and allies within our religious institutions. I implore religious leaders to search themselves for the compassion to embrace individuals who are LGBT, even if their institutions still condemn them. And my hope for the many LGBT people who are struggling with competing identities is that they refuse to give up until they have found a spiritual home to which they can bring their whole selves.

My partner and I realized that much of this country’s same-sex political battle has taken place within the span of our relationship. 

I feel blessed that I am alive at this time in history, and call upon the Shehechiyanu prayer: We are thankful to have been given life, that we have been sustained, and that we have been brought to this instant. I feel honored to help couples mark their unions as sacred covenants. And now I can sign all of their marriage licenses.


Rabbi Mychal Copeland is a rabbi and senior Jewish educator at Hillel at Stanford. She can be reached at [email protected]

Rabbi Mychal Copeland

Rabbi Mychal Copeland is spiritual leader at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco and author of "Struggling in Good Faith: LGBTQI Inclusion from 13 American Religious Perspectives."