Rabbis on Why They Will Officiate Queer Marriage, as Obergefell Sits in Jeopardy

In the days after Barrett’s confirmation, rabbis all over my social media feeds were posting about their willingness and readiness to officiate weddings for queer Jews and their partners. Some even offered to do it immediately, knowing the threat that Barrett posed.

If the Supreme Court overturns marriage equality, hundreds of rabbis are willing and able to to officiate weddings for queer Jews and their partners.
A pride flags with a Jewish star seen at Chicago’s Dyke March in June 2018. (Flickr/ TedEytan / CC BY-SA 2.0)

The euphoria of a new administration hasn’t overshadowed my fears of losing the right to marry my girlfriend. But in the days after Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation, rabbis all over my social media feeds were posting about their willingness and readiness to officiate weddings for queer Jews and their partners. Some even offered to do it immediately, knowing the threat that Barrett posed.

Watching Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court unfold over the last few months of 2020 was chilling as a young, queer woman. I vividly remember the very moments learning that marriage equality became a reality in 2015 with Obergefell v. Hodges. I was only 18, and was comforted knowing I had my whole life ahead of me to meet the right person, fall in love, and start my life with them. And then I did: My girlfriend Hannah Ruth and I met in college, fell in love, moved in together, blended our family of cats (Prim and Goose get along great!), and started talking about long-term plans.

Barrett’s nomination in October felt like a punch to the gut. At once, the very real possibility of losing the right to marry each other became clear. While Barrett refused to definitely answer questions about her views on gay marriage, her record speaks for itself. This is a woman who believes that marriage is between one man and one woman. Not just her marriage—all marriages. 

Ostensibly, neither Hannah Ruth nor I are ready for marriage. But the fear that the right to marry could be dashed before we could even seriously plan for it crushed me. 

In a panic, I turned to a source of wisdom I knew would give great advice: Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, a friend and the scholar-in-residence at the National Council of Jewish Women. She was important for me to talk to because not only are Hannah Ruth and I queer; we are planning on having a Jewish wedding in the future. 

If the Supreme Court overturns marriage equality, hundreds of rabbis are willing and able to to officiate weddings for queer Jews and their partners.
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg. (danyaruttenberg.net)

So I asked Rabbi Ruttenberg if we would even be able to have a Jewish wedding ceremony if the Supreme Court overturned marriage equality. Her answer? Unequivocally “yes!”

She explained that, according to Judaism, “civil and Jewish marriage is not the same. More and more rabbis are willing to officiate queer weddings, especially in more Orthodox circles. There will still be rabbis who officiate queer weddings—myself included.”

This brought me immediate relief, but it didn’t last long. At this point Barrett was still being rushed through the nomination process. I thought about what we would be missing out on if we waited too long to wed, and  marriage equality was overturned in that time. I wouldn’t let a bigot like Barrett bar me from being legally married to the woman I love. 

Days later, Barrett was officially confirmed to the Supreme Court and given free reign to vote to overturn basic rights and strip millions of people of equality and justice. While I know that marriage equality is certainly not the most pressing issue in the LGBTQ+ community—when rates of violence, especially against trans women of color, have skyrocketed—I was devastated. 

I watched as many of my queer friends rushed to local courthouses to sign marriage documents just in case they lost the right to in the future. The irony of this wasn’t lost on me: For decades, queer people held their own, non-legal wedding ceremonies and rushed to the courthouse as soon as we won Obergefell. Now the opposite was happening: Queer people rushing to the courthouse, with plans of holding their religious or private ceremonies later. 

But in the days after Barrett’s confirmation, something incredible happened: Rabbis all over my social media feeds were posting about their willingness and readiness to officiate weddings for queer Jews and their partners. Some even offered to do it immediately, knowing the threat that Barrett posed. 


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One of the first people to post such a thing was Rabbi Lily Solochek, a nonbinary and queer rabbi serving Adas Yoshuron Synagogue in Rockland, Maine. They told me they decided to post that status because:

Obergefell was passed a week before my wife and I started dating, which was really, really cool because the idea that we could simply be married and recognized by our entire country was really powerful to me. Our relationship didn’t have to be about the right to be married. 

“In the wake of Barrett’s appointment, it’s important to me to remind all of my community, whether they’re people I know personally or people who are friends of friends or just somebody who follows social media that you’re seen and you’re loved. For people who really are thinking about getting married or worried that they might not have that opportunity if they wanted it, then I would do that free of charge.”

They added, “The history of why queer people are asking and wanting to get married was about being able to be with our partners in a hospital, being able to benefit from the tax code, et cetera, that privileges married couples in a very specific way. When there is an attack on same sex marriage rights we can’t lose sight of the fact that that is an important part but not the end goal of what queer liberation looks like in America.” 

Lily spoke about creating space for their LGBTQ+ congregants and being a resource for cis and straight folks who have questions about queer and trans identity. 

Rabbi Jonah Geffen of Hunter College Hillel, felt the opposite—that the idea of posting that he would officiate queer weddings on social media never crossed his mind: “It’s something I’ve always done as a rabbi.” 

Rabbi Geffen, who is straight, has been working with his Hillel staff to create an inclusive and robust space for his LGBTQ+ students. (Hillels are hubs across campuses that welcome Jewish students and allies of all backgrounds to participate in social events, holiday and Shabbat services, community and more.)

He also made a crucial point: It’s harder and harder for rabbis to be anything but allies to the queer community because of the increasing number of LGBTQ+ rabbinical students. He told Ms.:

“I started rabbinical school in 2007 at the Jewish Theological Seminary and I was classmates with the first openly gay and lesbian students accepted to the rabbinical school. 

“So even though there are generations of rabbis before them who were allies, it hasn’t been that long since openly gay, lesbian and queer students have been ordained. What that means is that every crop of rabbis have been in rabbinical school in class with queer identified students who are now their colleagues. And so it’s not as easy to be to be closed or biased as it once was. It gets harder to act like people don’t exist and don’t deserve equality.”

I don’t know if this Supreme Court session will take a case that could overturn marriage equality before Hannah Ruth and I are ready. But I know that there are hundreds of rabbis who are willing, able and even excited about meeting us where we’re at when the time is right. 

As Rabbi Ruttenberg said to me at the end of our conversation, “As an elder queer person in this movement, our community has faced worse and been resilient. We can persist through this, too, if we need too. To any young, queer Jews, sit tight. Our queer, Jewish communities have got your back.”

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About

Steph Black is a Jewish activist and writer based in D.C. where she fights to expand abortion access and reproductive justice. She writes newsletters, funds abortion, clinic escorts. Read her writing, follow her work, and subscribe at her website, stephblack.blog. All typos in her work can be attributed to her cat, Goose.