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Many Jews Flock to Bay State As Gay Marriage Law Takes Effect

May 18, 2004
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It was late on a Sunday night, but Laura Moskowitz and Robin Shore were lined up outside Cambridge City Hall, waiting for the doors to open.

The two Jewish women — parents of a daughter who will have her Bat Mitzvah in November — were among the first applicants for a same-sex marriage license under a controversial Massachusetts law that went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

The issue of same-sex marriage has been a divisive one in the Jewish community as well as in society at large. The Reform and Reconstructionist movements have come out in support of gay marriage, while Conservative and Orthodox leaders have opposed it.

But many Jews were in the crowd that gathered Sunday night outside Cambridge City Hall. By 11 p.m., the crowd had grown to about 10,000 people.

“This is a historical event, and we wanted to be part of the community,” Moskowitz said.

She and Shore live in Cambridge with their daughter Mariah and are members of Temple Ohabei Shalom in Boston. The couple plans to be married under a chupah by their rabbi, Emily Lipof, and cantor, Robert Solomon, on June 16, in the backyard of their home.

Moskowitz and Shore arrived early enough to be twentieth in line among the more than 250 couples that received numbered tickets to apply for a license. Under state regulations, there is a waiting period of three days before the license is granted.

Cambridge, which has a long history of extending civil rights for gays and lesbians, opened the doors to City Hall shortly before 10:30 p.m., ensuring its place as the first community to usher in the law. The development resulted from a landmark decision last Nov. 17 by Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled that same-sex marriages could not be barred under the state’s constitution.

The soggy weather didn’t dampen the street-scene festivity of the throngs who filled the massive stone stairway entrance, adjoining lawns and surrounding sidewalks, spilling out onto Massachusetts Avenue, which had to be closed off for several blocks. Well-wishers handed out glowing light-stick necklaces, party hats, candy necklaces and noisemakers.

There was a small gathering of counterdemonstrators, but their chants largely were drowned out by the noise of the crowd, which was contained by scores of riot police on City Hall grounds and nearby streets.

“Tonight is a night long on celebration and short on politics,” Mayor Michael Sullivan announced during an hourlong, formal program in the City Council chambers initiating the new law. White tulle was draped around the City Hall banisters, and a table was lined with 200 cups of sparkling cider and a three-tiered wedding cake.

Giddy laughter broke out during a choral rendition of the Beatles’ hit, “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

Arthur Lipkin arrived at City Hall early in the afternoon, securing the fourth place in line and becoming the first Jew to complete the license application.

Lipkin and his partner of nearly 20 years will be married in a civil ceremony by state Rep. Alice Wolf on Friday, May 28 — “before sundown,” Lipkin quipped, in a nod to his Jewish faith.

Eve Alpern of Massachusettes, who was seventh in line, will be married in June by a Reconstructionist rabbi, she said.

“I feel very connected to Judaism as a culture,” said Alpern, whose partner, Brenda Morris, is not Jewish.

She felt strongly about having a religious ceremony, Alpern said, and is having a chupah made for the occasion. She said she hopes to raise a Jewish family.

Dawn Beckman and Susan Sommer, who together are raising two Jewish children, were No. 120.

“We left City Hall a little before 3 a.m.,” Beckman said later that morning in a phone interview. “The lines were well organized and there was a guitarist in the City Council chambers all night long, so it continued to be fun.”

Beckman and Sommer plan to marry in a civil ceremony June 6. But the important ceremony for them is planned for October, Beckman said, when they will be married by Phil Weiss, religious leader of Temple B’nai Brith of Somerville, Mass., where their families have been members for years.

“I wish I could have done it earlier,” Weiss said of his ability to officiate at same-sex weddings. “Marriage is a serious business. The status and intensity and the moral weight that marriage carries helps a couple trying to live committed lives. I’m looking forward to our being able to provide that moral help.”

Jewish leaders in Massachusetts have been divided on the issue of same-sex marriage, with outspoken support from the Reform and Reconstructionist movements and vocal opposition from the Orthodox community.

The Conservative movement is reconsidering its 1992 general statement that rabbis should not perform same-sex marriages, said Rabbi Myron Geller of Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester. Geller is a member of the Conservative movement’s committee on Jewish law and standards.

Within the Conservative movement, Geller said, “We need to stress, no matter where we stand on the halachic aspects of this, the fact that we don’t support prejudice against gays and their rights in society,” he said, referring to Jewish law. “To a very large extent, this is a generational issue and time is probably going to resolve it.”

Wolf, a veteran of Cambridge and Massachusetts politics who was on hand at City Hall, is among the Jewish state legislators who has been a staunch supporter of same-sex marriage, according to Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.

“The Jewish legislators showed a real understanding of discrimination in a way a lot of other legislators didn’t,” she said at City Hall. “It’s part of our collective history.”

Isaacson said the hate mail she gets because of her outspoken support for gay rights has changed in recent years to include harshly anti-Jewish messages.

Jews’ disproportionate leadership and activism for gay and lesbian rights and same-sex marriage is not surprising, said Steve Grossman, a native of Massachusetts who has served as president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and chairman of the Democratic National Committee and the Massachusetts Democratic Committee.

“Jewish community leaders and activists, gay or straight, understand that the battle for equal rights under the law is a battle in which Jews have participated for a long time,” Grossman said in an interview by phone.

Last-minute efforts to block implementation of the law, including an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, failed last Friday.

“It was very exciting,” Moskowitz said, describing the jubilation that greeted her and Shore as they emerged from City Hall and descended the stairs. With the crowd still in the thousands when they emerged abound 1 a.m., Moskowitz compared it to walking through an alley of cheering supporters.

“It was a highlight. It felt like we were getting married,” she said with a laugh.

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