Jewish chuppas booked for same sex weddings

Sydney couple Dr Kerryn Phelps (left) and Jackie Stricker-Phelps at their New York wedding.

THE first two same-sex Jewish weddings in Australia to be solemnised by a rabbi will take place next year, as Jewish community leaders applauded the legalisation of same-sex marriage, while high-profile gay Jewish Australians expressed joy at the landmark change.

Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins of Sydney’s The Emanuel Synagogue, and head of the Council of Masorti Rabbis of Australia, told The AJN he and his Sydney Masorti colleague Rabbi Rafael Kaiserblueth will each officiate at a wedding between two males at the shule next year.

At Lag b’Omer, a traditional Jewish wedding time, Rabbi Kamins will conduct the wedding ceremony between two men who have been in a relationship for 46 years.

Rabbi Kamins said the couple was “obviously thrilled” by the breakthrough. “Their families have always been accepting of them,” he added.

While it is early days, no gay weddings have been booked through the Union for Progressive Judaism, Rabbi Kim Ettlinger, head of the Council of Progressive Rabbis of Australia, Asia and New Zealand reported.

Well known Sydney Jewish same-sex couple Dr Kerryn Phelps and her partner Jackie Stricker-Phelps were in the public gallery in Parliament House in Canberra for the House of Representatives vote that brought in marriage equality on December 7.

Phelps, a medical doctor, and Stricker, daughter of Kindertransport survivor Alfred Stricker, were married in New York in 1988 by a US rabbi before it was legal in that jurisdiction, returning to the US 10 years later to marry in a civil ceremony.

Although they are now automatically married under Australian law as of last week, the two Emanuel Synagogue congregants have asked Rabbi Kamins to conduct a wedding ceremony at the shule on January 4, the 20th anniversary of their first New York wedding.

“It has been a long fight for the [LGBTI] community, and for us it came after the battle to officially adopt our daughter, Gabi, when she was 12. So [marriage equality] represents the last thing left that needed to be done,” Stricker-Phelps told The AJN.

When the vote went through in Parliament, “the feeling was pure elation, and everyone sang We Are Australian together”, she said.

Michael Barnett of LGBTI advocacy group Aleph Melbourne married his husband Gregory Storer, then a manager at a family counselling agency, in New Zealand in 2014.

Their civil ceremony was conducted before a small gathering of family, friends and co-workers. They are planning a recommitment ceremony for early next year.

“It gives us great relief to know that our foreign marriage will be recognised under Australian law and that we will have the same legal protections as all others whose marriages are similarly recognised under Australian law, including that of my parents who were also married in New Zealand,” said Barnett.

“This relief is in part due to the peace of mind that we will have the same automatic protections married couples enjoy when it comes to health-care situations, end-of-life situations and other legal scenarios,” he said.

Barnett said he hopes “there will be space within the Jewish community for these celebrations to be embraced and affirmed in whatever way religious communities feel appropriate to their traditions and customs, both old and new”.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) president Anton Block commended Parliament “for acting promptly to enact an amendment to the civil-law definition of marriage in the Marriage Act in order to give effect to the clear result of the recent ABS survey”.

“The new law does not relate in any way to religious marriages, and preserves the right of clergy to refuse to perform or participate in any marriage ceremony at their discretion.

“We have called on the government to ensure that religious institutions and religious schools will continue to have the same rights they currently enjoy under the law to practice, teach and preach their religious beliefs, including their beliefs about the institution of marriage being between a man and a woman,” he stated.

However, the ECAJ annual conference “unanimously rejected proposals that would permit businesses to refuse to provide goods, services and facilities” to gay couples planning their weddings.

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies president Jeremy Spinak said his organisation “sends a hearty mazal tov to all the LGBTI members of our community, their families and friends, and all who made the same-sex vote in the House of Representatives possible. We look forward to celebrating many simchas with them in the future”.

Jewish Community Council of Victoria president Jennifer Huppert stated: “This was a difficult and contentious process but we welcome the outcome … We also recognise the impact that the debate and survey had on the LGBTI members of the community, and hope that anyone facing mental health concerns as a result seek appropriate support and assistance.”

PETER KOHN AND SHANE DESIATNIK