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Jewish paper lists gay, lesbian unions as weddings

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 30 — In September 1994, the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California printed its first announcement of a commitment ceremony between two women; Nicole Berner and Ruti Kadish were united by Rabbi Rona Shapiro. The couple insisted their announcement should be labeled a wedding, no different than the same-sex couples on the page. But the editors called it a commitment ceremony. Now they would have no reason to object. At a meeting this month, the Bulletin’s board of directors of voted unanimously to print homosexual unions alongside heterosexual announcements. Both will be listed under the “weddings” headline in the lifecycles section. “We thought it was time to acknowledge that gay and lesbian couples join together and form families just as heterosexual couples do,” said Louis Hass, board president. “Especially given the times and the area which the Bulletin serves, it only makes sense to treat all Jewish couples the same in our life-cycles section.” Marc S. Klein, the Bulletin’s editor and publisher, decided to raise the issue with the board following The New York Times’ decision last month to include gay and lesbian couples in its Sunday Styles section along with heterosexual weddings. “I think the action of The New York Times gave us a good reason to revisit our past discussions on the entire issue of how we handle gay and lesbian commitment ceremonies,” said Klein. According to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, approximately 70 dailies around the country publish announcements of same-sex unions, the San Francisco Chronicle among them. The Bulletin was the first Jewish paper in the nation to run commitment ceremonies, and Klein recalled he received no negative feedback when that first announcement ran in 1997. “Now I believe that because of our decision, we will be the first Jewish newspaper to include them under the heading of weddings,” said Klein. Klein further pointed out that most Reform rabbis in the area officiate at gay and lesbian ceremonies as do many Conservative rabbis, although the Conservative movement does not approve of its rabbis doing so. Klein further noted that the term “wedding,” unlike “marriage,” is not a legal one. The Bulletin will require the following criteria to publish such an announcement: oAt least one of the partners must be Jewish. oThe couple must have participated in a public Jewish ceremony. oThe couple must have filed in some city or town as registered domestic partners. That the couple must be registered as domestic partners was suggested by Rabbi Camille Angel, spiritual leader of San Francisco’sCongregation Sha’ar Zahav, who sits on the Bulletin’s board and attended the meeting. Angel requires such registration for gay and lesbian couples whom she marries. Angel said she felt it was her rabbinic duty to ensure that a couple go to the trouble of being registered just as heterosexual couples must obtain a marriage license. “In helping a couple get off on the best foot is to encourage them as much as I can to set up that legal foundation, to approximate as best we can, the privileges accorded to a mixed gender couple,” said Angel. Angel hailed the board’s decision, remarking that had she and her partner, Karen, not been married three years ago, they’d want news of their wedding in the Bulletin. “I’m tremendously proud that here in San Francisco, our Jewish Bulletin is making history by being the first Jewish press to recognize, honor and celebrate same-sex weddings. Kol HaKavod [congratulations] for both keeping with the times and being groundbreaking. It’s tremendous that the Bulletin is taking this right step to bridge what is, to what ought to be.” Klein agreed that the paper was reflecting the times. “In so many issues, we in California are ahead of the rest of the nation and have been for years,” said Klein. “Undoubtedly, our move will be followed by other Jewish newspapers, as their communities better understand the important role gay and lesbians play in Jewish life.”