A Decade Later, Mass. Jews Look Back at Legacy of Same-Sex Marriage

First State To Legalize Signaled Major Shift for Jews

Happy Couple: Idit Klein, right, the executive director of Keshet, married Jordan Namerow under a chuppah at their 2011 wedding in Massachusetts, which was officiated by two rabbis.
Courtesy of Idit Klein
Happy Couple: Idit Klein, right, the executive director of Keshet, married Jordan Namerow under a chuppah at their 2011 wedding in Massachusetts, which was officiated by two rabbis.

By JTA

Published June 01, 2014.
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Ten years ago, shortly after midnight on May 17, 2004, a jubilant Arthur Lipkin and his longtime partner descended the stone steps of Cambridge City Hall clutching a marriage license application.

It was a historic night of revelry and celebration, as Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to allow same-sex couples to legally marry.

Outside Cambridge City Hall, where reporters and television cameras from around the world captured the festivities, some 10,000 well wishers cheered on the hundreds of couples who had waited long hours in line to receive applications to marry.

Lipkin, a veteran gay rights activist, was fourth in line.

“We walked down, but it was really floating down those stairs. It just felt like a moment of immense joy and community celebration that we were part of in Cambridge,” recalled the now 67-year-old retired high school teacher.

A week later, he and his partner, Robert Ellsworth, were married by a member of the state legislature.

The following month, Rabbi Emily Lipof stood with another couple under a chuppah in a backyard ceremony, marrying two Jewish women congregants from Temple Ohabei Shalom, a Boston Reform synagogue.

“It was wonderful, because they were celebrating each other and their marriage but also an important moment. There was an extra dimension of meaning,” recounted Lipoff, who is now the synagogue’s rabbi emerita.

Ten years after the first same-sex marriages were performed in Massachusetts, the national legal and political landscape has shifted dramatically. Today, 19 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage — two of which, Oregon and Pennsylvania, joined the list in May following federal court rulings striking down their bans on same-sex marriage.

“How much difference 10 years makes,” said Idit Klein, executive director of Keshet, a Boston-based national advocacy group for LGBT Jews.

Klein said that the shift is mirrored in the Jewish community.

A decade ago, same-sex marriage had the religious approval of the Reform and Reconstructionist movements, but the Conservative movement prohibited such unions. Today, Conservative rabbis have their movement’s blessing to officiate at same-sex marriages.

“It is woven into the fabric of Jewish community life, the way other simchot have always been,” Klein said, using the Hebrew word for joyous occasions.


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