Academic journal article Ethnologies

Struggling with Tradition: Making Room for Same-Sex Weddings in a Liberal Jewish Context

Academic journal article Ethnologies

Struggling with Tradition: Making Room for Same-Sex Weddings in a Liberal Jewish Context

Article excerpt

Malgre une acceptation croissante de l'homosexualite dans la culture populaire dominante, les debats concernant la legalisation des unions entre gens du meme sexe se poursuivent, essentiellement parce qu'elles entrent en conflit avec les notions religieuses du mariage heterosexuel et de la famille. Le mariage est devenu un symbole statutaire qui fait des noces publiques un but auquel aspirent des groupes marginalises afin d'acquerir une plus grande acceptation sociale. Le judaisme liberal, en particulier, a repondu a cette evolution des circonstances culturelles et a adapte sa tradition afin de repondre aux besoins de divers fideles dans le cadre d'un marche spirituel en expansion. Ces branches de la tradition se confrontent a des elements textuels et rituels problematiques qui ont empeche l'acceptation dans la communaute des Juifs gais, lesbiennes, bisexuels ou marginaux. Des lectures alternatives du Levitique (18: 22) et du concept talmudique du kiddushin ont permis de faire une place aux mariages entre gens du meme sexe a la synagogue. Puisque les mariages entre gens du meme sexe mettent au defi les positions dominantes au sujet de ce qui constitue une famille conventionnelle, les ceremonies de mariage celebrees dans un cadre religieux sont susceptibles de transformer les communautes qui en sont les temoins, en particulier au Canada ou ce type de mariage est legal.

Despite growing acceptance of homosexuality in mainstream popular culture, debates about legalizing same-sex unions continue largely because they conflict with religious notions of heterosexual marriage and family. Marriage has become a symbol of status, making public weddings a sought-after goal for marginalized groups to gain greater social acceptance. Liberal Judaism particularly has responded to changing cultural circumstances and adapted tradition to meet the needs of diverse worshippers within a growing spiritual marketplace. These branches of the tradition contend with problematic textual and ritual elements that have obstructed the acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer Jews into their communities. Alternative understandings of Leviticus 18:22 and the Talmudic concept of kiddushin make room for same-sex weddings to occur in the synagogue. Because same-sex marriage challenges dominant attitudes about what constitutes a conventional family, wedding ceremonies performed in religious settings can transform communities that witness them, especially within Canada where same-sex marriage is legal.


Sometimes the rose will lean toward the rose, the jonquil towards the jonquil ("The First Captain's Tale" in The Thousand and One Arabian Nights, Mathers 1953: 341-351).

From every human being there rises a light that reaches straight to heaven. And when two souls that are destined to be together find each other, their streams of light flow together, and a single brighter light goes forth from their united being (Baal Shem Tov). (1)

With celebrities like Elton John, (2) Melissa Etheridge, Rosie O'Donnell, and George Michael heading to the altar amidst widespread media attention, mainstream culture appears to be celebrating the public commitments, both informal and legally recognised, that same-sex couples are making to each other in various parts of the world. (3) For many, being gay, lesbian, bisexual or queer is no longer perceived as a transgressive lifestyle choice, but rather just another way of being human in a postmodern, culturally diverse society. (4) A recent article by entertainment columnist Johanna Schneller in the Globe and Mail confirms this shift in perception, pointing out that film storylines with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered central protagonists are on the rise. Their sexuality is not presented as a plot element, but simply as part of who they are. In the examples she cites, including Transamerica, Brokeback Mountain, Capote, The Dying Gaul, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Rent, Breakfast on Pluto, and The Family Stone, characters with alternative sexual identities are struggling with the kinds of issues that affect everyone (2005: R4). …

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