Cynthia Kalish lives in Worcester, Mass., with her partner and their six-year-old daughter. She works in a human service organization dedicated to serving diverse populations as a recruitment and training coordinator.
My Big Fat Interfaith Lesbian Wedding
Originally published June 2004. Republished July 10, 2013.
I finally know first hand what all the fuss is about when planning a wedding. I still don't understand why it takes a year or two, as I am now in the throes of planning two weddings. I'm doing everything, from registering at Crate and Barrel and Home Depot, to ordering wedding invitations and a gender sensitive ketubah, Jewish marriage contract, from endless conversations with my mother about the guest list to pre-marital blood tests and so on.
Michelle, my partner of fourteen years, and I will have a civil wedding at Worcester City Hall on May 20, the first day possible under the new Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision. We will celebrate with friends and family, including our six-year-old daughter who has no clue that we are not already "married." Many strangers will likely be a part of this deeply personal moment as well, as there continues to be an extraordinary amount of controversy swirling around the decision to allow two people of the same gender to marry.
As if one wedding is not enough, Michelle and I will also have a religious ceremony in August. Although Michelle is not Jewish, we are raising our daughter as a Jew and are both active in our Reform congregation. It is important to both of us that our union be blessed in a religious ceremony. Now, try finding a rabbi who will not only marry two lesbians, but two interfaith lesbians! We were thrilled to find Rabbi Lev Baesh of Dover, New Hampshire, who will officiate at our ceremony. We have also been blessed with tremendous support from our own rabbi, Jordan Millstein. Although it is not his practice to officiate at interfaith weddings, he has been there for us on an emotional and spiritual level that has buoyed us through difficult times and embraced us in times of joy.
As a child, I had all the usual dreams of being married and having children, but when I came out as a lesbian in my early twenties, I gave up that dream. Then, six years ago, after several years of trying to become pregnant, I gave birth to Hannah, and Michelle legally adopted her.
Last July, our lives took a very different turn. Michelle was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. After several rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and more chemotherapy, we have experienced an entirely new dimension to the depth of our commitment to one another. "For better or for worse . . . in sickness and in health" . . . yet until now we could not legally take those vows. Of course, we took them in our hearts and have made them the central force of our life together. Those who have experienced the agony of having a spouse diagnosed with a terminal illness know that there is no comparable pain. In addition, we also had to cope with making our way through this journey with no legal attachment to one another. That is the main reason that we will be married.
Our upcoming weddings will not make our lives together more valid in our own eyes, in the eyes of our loving and supportive families, in the eyes of our fellow congregants at Temple Emanuel, or, in my opinion, in the eyes of God. In the eyes of the law, however, we will be viewed differently. Our relationship will be legitimized and will be equal to those in heterosexual marriages. And perhaps those people who want to define us by what happens in our bedroom will be able to see that there is far more depth to our relationship, just as there is far more depth to a heterosexual relationship, than the act of making love.
Personally, one of the most rewarding parts of this progress toward same-gender marriages has been seeing how much support there is in my Worcester Jewish community. Rabbi Millstein has been incredibly vocal in his support of the issue and has become a local activist in the Worcester press and other public forums. Although he has made the decision in his rabbinic practice not to officiate at interfaith weddings, he has been an ongoing source of strength and support to both Michelle and me. Friends from the congregation who I always knew were privately supportive of gay rights have impressed me with their eloquence and their willingness to now take a public stand for same-sex marriage as a civil right. And when I announced at our last temple board meeting that Michelle and I would be getting married in May, I received an overwhelming round of applause and resounding mazel tovs.
Yes, I am sad that we cannot be married in our own synagogue with our own rabbi, but we are working on ways to include our temple family and be a part of this event together. We will include Jewish rituals in a way that is comfortable for all of us, and members of my spiritual community, including my rabbi, will share in our joy. Most importantly, Michelle and I will share, in God's presence, the love and commitment that we have felt for each other for fourteen years. Running a close second, in our daughter Hannah's mind, is the fact that she gets to be the flower girl--and really, what could be better than that?