Gay Pride, Traditional Gay Marriage – in Israel

Today was pride day in Tel Aviv, with an interesting twist at the end. After the pride parade and party on the beach, five same sex couples married, in what was described as a “traditional” Jewish ceremony.

The ceremony, held at sundown after a boisterous disco on the sand, began with a serenade by gay pop star Ivri Lider as the three female and two male same-sex couples walked up to the Chuppah, the Jewish wedding altar. The ceremony was performed according to Jewish marriage rites, with each couple exchanging rings and Hebrew vows before breaking the traditional glass as the crowd erupted in applause.

What was not traditional, of course, is that three of the couples comprised only women, and the other two only men. But then, modern heterosexual marriages also differ from the Biblical “traditional” marriage, too. A modern Israeli man would expect to secure agreement for marriage from his intended wife, rather than earning her by seven years labour for her father, as Jacob did to earn Rachel. Nor would he expect to have to marry his intended’s older sister as well, as Jacob was forced to do with Leah, before being allowed to wed the one he really wanted. Nor would he expect to take on his wives slaves, as well as his two brides.

All traditional institutions are changing all the time. Who is to say that a modern same sex marriage which maintains the form of Jewish ritual is any less “traditional” than an opposite one which dispenses with some ritual? The very word “traditional”, when applied to marriage, has been so distorted it has completely lost all meaning.

Jewish “traditionalists” have usurped the word, as have “traditional” Catholics, with equally little justification. Others are fighting back:

“I hope that from this day weddings like this can happen in every place in Israel and not just in Tel Aviv,” Nitzan Horowitz  (the Knesset’s first openly gay parliamentarian) told Haaretz. “Weddings for everyone – man and woman, man and man, and woman and woman, and this will be the end of the monopoly of the ultra-Orthodox over our lives in Israel.”

One final but important point about this news item: the report is very specific that these couples were “married” today – but Israel does not yet have a gay marriage law. The point is that in nearly all countries, there is no need for legislation to make marriage “legal”. All that is required is legal recognition. So today’s couples are indeed “married”. They just don’t have legal recognition for their unions.


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