The Central Conference of American Rabbis, the world's largest group of Reform rabbis, voted overwhelmingly March 29 to allow its clergy to bless gay and lesbian unions. The action marks a break with the larger Jewish and Christian religious establishment, which has so far resisted such a move.
It took some 500 rabbis gathered for the conference's annual meeting little more than an hour to pass the resolution, which states that Jewish same-sex couples are "worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual." The resolution does not, however, mandate such ceremonies but leaves it up to the individual rabbi to decide whether to perform a gay union. A last-minute change in the wording of the resolution states: "... we recognize the pluralism within our ranks on the issue."
Still, CCAR leaders spoke forcefully in favor of blessing gay unions and indicated that they would immediately design appropriate liturgy. Charles Kroloff, the president of the CCAR, termed the action a fine expression of the tradition of Hebrew prophecy and said: "My dream is that every gay and lesbian will feel comfortable in any of our synagogues. In my mind, this is the direction of history."
Christian denominations across the country are bitterly divided over homosexual unions, and the issue has threatened to create outright schisms. Only smaller groups, such as the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalists, have approved such unions. Debates over the blessing of gay and lesbian relationships are expected to dominate this year's United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Episcopal Church conventions.
Gregory Dell, a United Methodist minister who was suspended from his pastorate after conducting a same-sex union ceremony in 1998, was among those welcoming the CCAR decision. "I think it's very exciting and it's a clear indication that people of deep religious faith are beginning to look at this possibility through the eyes of love and care rather than bigotry and prejudice," said Dell, now director of In All Things Charity, an organization that hopes to change the Methodist prohibition on clergy officiating at such ceremonies.
Parker Williamson, chief operating officer of the conservative Presbyterian Lay Committee, said he was "saddened" by the rabbis' vote but doesn't expect it to affect the PCUSA's upcoming discussion of the issue.
Although the vote by the rabbis was overwhelming, it was not unanimous. At least two rabbis spoke out against the resolution and a handful opposed it during the voice vote, according to Kroloff (the session was closed to the media). Among them were rabbis who felt that blessing gay unions would alienate Reform Jews from their Conservative and Orthodox brethren, who are opposed to the practice. They were especially concerned that the action would pose a stumbling block for Reform rabbis in Israel who are struggling for recognition in a religious establishment that is overwhelmingly Orthodox. …