Gay History in the Making, I Guess

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Today was the day that we’d worked for all these years: finally the doors of the Conservative movement have been opened to gays and lesbians. So why didn’t I celebrate?

It was a thrill standing in the cold today, huddling outside the Park Avenue Synagogue as the news dribbled in over cell-phones. Yes to Dorff (the “compromise” pro-gay position)… no to Tucker (the more radical one)… law committee members resigning… Admittedly, the minutiae are only of interest to a few dozen people in the world, but as one of them, it was a thrill to be on the front lines.

Yet after the euphoria wore off, it somehow feels like less momentous than one might have expected. Part of the reason, I’m sure, was that my own personal stake in the matter has lessened with time. I no longer care that urgently about how a group of Conservative rabbis interpret a verse from the Torah. Not as a personal matter, anyway; I do still care very deeply about the closeted Jews I meet all the time through my work, and about the larger repercussions that this decision has — basically, as one more religious group remembering that homosexuality is not as big a deal to God as some people would have us believe. But now that I’m in love, and partnered, it feels less like personal salvation and more like some other people finally figuring it out for themselves.

Part of the reason, too, was that this was a compromise, not a victory. This is probably how it should be — if activists like me are thrilled, it means that folks on the other side are infuriated. This way, my side got a ruling that will let gays into rabbinical school, and their side got a ruling that maintained the ban on at least one kind of (male) homosexual activity. Functionally, there is no real difference, since the opinion makes “don’t ask, don’t tell” the law of the movement. But since the opinion equivocated, our celebration is muted as well.

And of course, it really has been long in coming. I am enormously grateful to the immense amount of volunteer work by the rabbinical students in Keshet, JTS’s advocacy group on this issue. But even they seemed to feel like the decision was inevitable. Only an eleventh-hour procedural maneuver — which did derail the Tucker opinion — threatened what has, for several months at least, seem like a foregone conclusion. Yes, Virginia, there really are gay people in the world.

Posted on December 7, 2006
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