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A new film by director Bonnie Burt, an old friend, is an intimate look at a same-sex couple, Caren and Farrell, who in 2002 had a commitment ceremony and then, two years later, were married in San Francisco during the brief window of time in which weddings for gays were legal there.
We see Caren and Farrell at their ranch in Nevada, reminiscing about their commitment ceremony and what it meant to them to have one. What comes through is their wish for their relationship to be acknowledged and valued as much as other relationships by their families and by society. Then the film moves to shots of the dancing party the couple had before their ceremony--contra dancing in which they were careful to have no leaders and no followers. Since they didn't know of any standard commitment ceremonies to model theirs on, Caren (a Jew) and Farrell (a recent Jew-by-choice) wrote their own. It focused on creating a Jewish family and working to repair the world. Movingly, we see them read their commitment vows in unision.
My Sister, My Bride [the title is from the Song of Songs] then segues to two years later, February of 2004. The couple is still together, and in fact Caren has given birth to a baby with the help of an implanted embryo. In order to have any parental rights over the baby, since they weren't legally married, Farrell has had to adopt the child.
But the city of San Francisco had just begun allowing same-sex couples to marry, and Caren and Farrell decide to be married legally. They stress that although they already felt committed to each other, they felt entitled to the legal rights that accrue to married couples. An elderly heterosexual couple from their synagogue accompanied them to serve as witnesses.
As Caren and Farrell wait for their turn to get married the camera observes other couples also waiting, and still others leaving after just getting married. The joy and excitement of this historic moment comes through clearly, for the volunteers who served as justices of the peace and registrars, as well as to the couples themselves.
While waiting, Caren refers to a recently married gay friend who had commented on how different he felt after his wedding. In the past this friend had always felt that he wasn't as good as other people, since he wasn't entitled to the same privileges (such as the ability to marry). Now, being married, he felt much better about himself, more worthy.
Burt has made a moving film, one that conveys the exhilaration of the moment, as well as the underlying point: the need to grant equal rights to same-sex couples.
This film will be shown at the Boston Jewish Film Festival on November 8. You can look for it as a Jewish film festival near you, or order it from the filmmaker at: www.bonnieburt.com.