My partner and I are getting married in a little over a month. She, a lawyer, and I, a professor, live in the Czech Republic. Technically, we aren’t getting married because the Czech Republic doesn’t have marriage equality. Our relationship will not be recognized in the U.S. For that, we need to be married in a state or nation that has marriage equality. Germany might soon. Other options would be a number of EU countries or the United States, but that doesn’t affect our status in the Czech Republic. Finally, our marriage will also not be recognized by some in Jewish circles as well since the ketubah, the Jewish marriage document which possesses legal status in Jewish courts, is between two women.
There is nothing legal about our Jewish wedding except one could argue its Jewishness. So, the day after our wedding our relationship will have the same recognition as it had the day before and the day before that. This would not be the case if we were a heterosexual couple. It reminds me of the countless commitment ceremonies that took place before marriage equality in the United States. They were not prohibited (like the marriages that slaves had because slaves weren’t considered people under the law or eligible to enter into legal contracts while in bondage (see pages 301-302). Yet, similar to the “contubernal relationships” of slaves performed by their masters or other slaves (page 302), they weren’t particularly legal either. Despite the ceremony, there was no change in status of the couple within society. Yet, recognition was and still is an important component of both struggles for rights. In fact, according to Darlene Goring in “The History of Slave Marriage in the United States,” (345-346), the process of gaining legal recognition was very similar for both ex-slaves and the marriage equality community in the United States.
Nonetheless, slaves and lesbian and gay couples married knowing that nothing will change. Of course, the history and cruelty of slavery in the United States and elsewhere across the world makes this comparison somewhat fraught. This is true even with the knowledge that being LGBT, or just a rumor of it, and/or engaging in same-sex sexual relations can lead to imprisonment, punishment and/or death in many places across the globe. Still, similar occurrences happened in both communities and outside the scope of the larger society’s purview.
One of the larger arguments and aims of queer theory and feminism when it comes to marriage is to question the institutionalized practice of it. Marriage was and in many respects still is a financial relationship between two people, with set gender roles meaning women are usually at a disadvantage. It has a history of classism and racism and is riddled with paternalism and patriarchy – a woman is under the “care” and “protection” of her husband. Women have had to ask their husbands for permission to do x, y or z and in some places still do. Many people have had arranged marriages with little to no say in the process. Some theorists also question whether humans are actually monogamous and if monogamy is good for humanity. Others suggest that marriage equality opens up the possibility of significant change regarding traditional concepts of marriage because there are no defined roles to play. Likewise, being married doesn’t automatically signify heterosexuality and therefore marriage disrupts heteronormativity. One could go on and on.
With both the lack of recognition from religious as well as secular society and an awareness of the institution’s criticism, we are still getting married. Why? We get along. We have fun. We enjoy many of the same things. We value the same principles. We seek to bring more justice into the world both professionally and personally. We like and love each other.
Also, marriage brings one a certain sense of stability, even if nothing is ever for certain. There is the hope and promise to do one’s best to be a sincere, authentic and caring person – one for the other – while not losing one’s individuality. Marriage grants our friends and family the chance to witness our love and share in our commitment. It brings people together.
A Jewish marriage only enhances our commitment to each other because we enter into the commitment with G-d as our witness. In the ceremony, we will honor each other, the simcha (joy) of the occasion and our guests. We commit our lives not just to each other, but also to the Jewish people. In return, the Jewish tradition offers us blessings, wishes and hopes for the future as it has for the generations who came before us.
As our ketubah will say, “I betroth you to me forever. I betroth you to me in everlasting faithfulness. In the spirit of Jewish tradition, I will be your loving friend as you are mine… And I will cherish you, honor you, uphold and sustain you in all truth and sincerity. I will respect you and the divine image within you. I take you to be mine in love and tenderness. May my love for you last forever. May we be consecrated, one to the other, by these rings. Let our hearts be united in faith and hope. May our hearts beat as one in times of gladness as in times of sadness. Let our home be built on Torah and loving-kindness. May our home be rich with wisdom and reverence.”
Amen. So may it be.