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Assembly Issues statement on same-sex commitment ceremonies

The Assembly of Reform Rabbis UK have issued a statement on same-sex commitment ceremonies for Jewish couples. The statement is the result of two years of deliberation by a small working party recognising a greater diversity of relationships within our communities, part of a general move to greater inclusivity in the Movement for Reform Judaism.

Rabbi Colin Eimer, who chaired the Assembly working party noted that: “The statement focuses on what constitutes good Jewish relationships, be they heterosexual or homosexual. Religious ceremonies exist in Jewish life for heterosexual couples to express their love, commitment, values and ideals. We believe that homosexual couples should have that same opportunity for a religious ceremony within the sanctity of Jewish community, tradition and practice. The statement is enabling rather than prescriptive. It recognises that practice will vary from community to community. Rabbis normally meet with the couples they are to marry and work out an appropriate ceremony. Henceforth this will happen with homosexual couples just as it does for heterosexual ones. Rabbis will only conduct same-sex commitment ceremonies with a prior or concurrent Civil Partnership ceremony”.

Assembly of Reform Rabbis UK

Guidelines for Civil Partnerships and Same-Sex Commitment Ceremonies for Jewish couples

Good Jewish relationships are based on an ethic of commitment, kedushah and loyalty. Relationships should be stable, faithful, loving and enriching in every sense and not exploitative in any sense. This must apply to all relationships, be they heterosexual or homosexual.

When a couple gets married under the chuppah, they are making a public commitment before God and the community, wishing to separate their relationship from any others they have or will have. It is an act ofkiddushin: separating themselves off to and for each other; as well as nissuin: raising their relationship beyond the realm of the ordinary and everyday. Such a religious ceremony must honour any committed relationship. A chuppah goes beyond the ceremony required by the law of the land and declares that this is an equal spiritual relationship with reciprocal rights and responsibilities.

Only in recent times have same-sex couples been able to seek appropriate religious ceremonies to express their love, shared commitment, values and ideals in the same way that heterosexual couples have always been able to do. While some same-sex couples may regard marriage as an inherently heterosexual institution, there is now a significant majority who want a religious ceremony within the sanctity of Jewish community, tradition and practice. We wish to encourage and enable ceremonies which enjoy the same religious status as the heterosexual ceremony whilst recognising difference.

English law does not require a prior Civil Partnership ceremony before a same-sex religious ceremony can take place. Apart from issues of legal parity with heterosexual relationships, without a Civil Partnership ceremony, a long-term same-sex partner might end up with no legal rights as next of kin in the event of death of their partner. We require, therefore, that rabbis only conduct same-sex commitment ceremonies with a prior or concurrent Civil Partnership ceremony.

The ceremony

Practice will vary from community to community and rabbis will develop an appropriate ceremony for each couple in the same way that they do with any heterosexual marriage they conduct. Suggested ceremonies are available for those interested.

Further questions

Rabbis may want to talk to the couple about what an appropriate vocabulary for same-sex partnership ceremonies is: ‘marriage service’; ‘consecration of relationship’; chuppah, kiddushin, nissuin; ‘service of commitment’. They may also want to discuss with the couple about whether the traditional haray at…k’dat moshe v’yisrael formula is appropriate in a same-sex partnership context.

Dissolution

In the sad event of the ending of a civil partnership, English Law provides guidelines for the legal dissolution of that partnership, which parallel the dissolution of a heterosexual marriage. We would strongly recommend that the Beit Din issues a Get for a same-sex couple just as it does for a heterosexual couple.

Synagogue matters

Same-sex couples should be considered in exactly the same way as any other member-couple in the synagogue regarding membership, burial etc.

15 February 2011/11 Adar I 5771

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