The Conservative Rabbinical Assembly has provided guidance to rabbis with regards to same-sex marriages. These guidelines came after Gerald Skolnik, the president of the group of 1,600 Conservative rabbis, came because he was asked to officiate at a same-sex wedding last year. Skolnik stated “I was flying by the seat of my pants.”
He was unsure if this should be something new or like a hterosexual ceremony.
It took six years of deliberation for the assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards to approve templates for same-sex marriages. They come six years after Conservative leaders first sanctioned same-sex relationships. The ritual guidelines detail two types of same-sex weddings as well as the dissolution of these marriages, and were created by Rabbis Daniel Nevins, Avram Reisner and Elliot Dorff. According to Nevins “Both versions are egalitarian. They differ mostly in style—one hews closely to the traditional wedding ceremony while the other departs from it.”
The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards passed the guidelines 13-0-1. Thirteen yes, zero no, and one abstention.
According to Nevins, neither of the templates include the kiddushin, or the step where the groom presents his bride with a ring. It is that act which many traditionally observant Jews believe is the act that constitutes marriage. The templates, instead, detail a ring exchange that is based on Jewish partnership law. That is, according to Nevins, an established halachic concept.
“We acknowledge that these partnerships are distinct from those discussed in the Talmud as ‘according to the laws of Moses and Israel,’” said Nevins, referring to the words used in kiddushin, “but we celebrate them with the same sense of holiness and joy as that expressed in heterosexual marriages.”
The committee’s templates are meant not as exclusive formulations that the rabbis would be required to use but as guidelines that Conservative rabbis can rely on. The three authors of the templates, who consulted with gay and lesbian rabbis, among others, in preparing their proposals, have stressed that that they understand individual rabbis retain significant autonomy in interpreting law. Rabbis, they said, will continue to explore and improvise in this still new area of Conservative Halacha.