The liberal Jewish movements are struggling to balance contemporary morality and Jewish tradition in deciding whether to ritually honor same-sex unions.
The issue of same-sex marriage has been debated in the United States for many years now, and American Jewish communities have joined in on the discussions, adding Jewish values and ethics to the conversation. For Jewish communities, there are two primary questions. First, should the United States government legalize same-sex marriage, offering homosexual couples the same legal benefits that married heterosexual couples have?
Secondly, should rabbis perform same-sex Jewish weddings, and if so, can these ceremonies be considered kiddushin (the Hebrew term for holy unions)? This would give them the same status as heterosexual marriages. The three primary liberal Jewish denominations--Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative--have been grappling with these questions for over a decade. In the Orthodox world, communities are still struggling with how to respond to members who are out of the closet, and for the most part are not engaging with the issue of same-sex marriage.
The Reconstructionist movement expressed its support for the full inclusion of gay men and lesbians in all aspects of Jewish life in its 1992 Report of the Reconstructionist Commission on Homosexuality. The report affirmed the holiness of homosexual relationships and the need to affirm them in a Jewish context: "As we celebrate the love between heterosexual couples, so too we celebrate the love between gay or lesbian Jews." The Reconstructionist movement today also fully endorses efforts to legalize civil same-sex marriages and grant homosexual couples equal benefits.
Reconstructionist Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, author of Like Bread on the Seder Plate: Jewish Lesbians and the Transformation of Tradition and co-author of Exploring Judaism: A Reconstructionist Approach, has argued that the Jewish principle of economic justice demands support for civil gay and lesbian marriage, because the absence of legal benefits for same-gender couples can cause them significant financial harm. While not required to do so, most Reconstructionist rabbis today perform same-sex Jewish weddings, which are included in the Reconstructionist Rabbi's Manual. Many use the traditional terminology and symbols of kiddushin used for heterosexual marriages.
The Reform Movement
The Reform Movement has called for civil same-sex marriage for many years. The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the professional association of Reform rabbis, passed a resolution in 1996 opposing "governmental efforts to ban gay and lesbian marriage." The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the congregational arm of the Reform movement, followed suit in 1997, resolving to, "support secular efforts to promote legislation which would provide civil marriage equal opportunity for gay men and lesbians."