Jewish Journal


June 16, 2008

Lesbian couple weds in Jewish ceremony in Beverly Hills


Robin Tyler, left, and Diane Olson, right, celebrate their wedding under a chuppah with lawyer Gloria Allred, on the steps of Beverly Hills Courthouse, Monday, June 16, 2008, in Beverly Hills, CA. Photo by David Sprague

Robin Tyler, left, and Diane Olson, right, celebrate their wedding under a chuppah with lawyer Gloria Allred, on the steps of Beverly Hills Courthouse, Monday, June 16, 2008, in Beverly Hills, CA. Photo by David Sprague

Amid a crush of photographers, a handful of largely drowned-out protesters, and hundreds of supporters tossing rose petals, Diane Olson and Robin Tyler stood under a chuppah on the Beverly Hills Courthouse steps on Monday evening to become one of the first lesbian couples to legally marry in California.

The couple had been among the original plaintiffs to sue the state for discrimination in the lawsuit that eventually led the California Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage. In recognition of that, the County of Los Angeles arranged for the Olson and Tyler to receive their marriage license at 5:01 Monday, just after the courthouse closed for regular business, ahead of the hundreds of same-gender couples who would flood the courthouse the next day.

The moment was an electrical mix of the spiritual, personal and political.

For eight years, every Valentines Day, Tyler and Olson, who have been together for 14 years, have been showing up that Beverly Hills courthouse with attorney Gloria Allred to apply for -- and be denied - a marriage license. Year after year, they would leave with an uneaten wedding cake.

On Monday, Olson and Tyler came in matching beige linen suits they had purchased a year ago in Singapore, in anticipation of this day. Allred, wearing a coordinated beige pantsuit, accompanied the couple into the courthouse, where they signed their marriage license.

Waving their papers as the wedding band began to play, Olson, Tyler and Allred came through the glass doors to the cheering crowd waiting outside as the wedding march began to play. Allred escorted Olson and Tyler down the aisle toward the chuppah, and the look in Tyler's glowing eyes was plain to read: She couldn't believe this day had come.

"You follow this light, or this path, and you know that it's right, but then you see you're not on that path alone," she said before the wedding. "I don't know how to describe it - I wanted this all my life. Every time I went to a girlfriend's wedding, and when my brother got married, it was something I always wanted for myself. It looks like God must have wanted it for me, too."

Born Arlene Chernick to a Jewish family in Winnipeg, Tyler came out in 1956 and has been an activist for gay causes most of her life.

She and Olson ran afoul of other gay activists when they filed the suit against the state just hours before San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome began issuing same-sex marriage licenses in 2004. Activists thought her suit would hurt the cause by pushing things too fast, but Tyler said on Monday she always knew this day would come.

Supporting the couple for the last four years has been Rabbi Denise Eger, rabbi of Kol Ami in West Hollywood, a Reform congregation that caters largely to the gay and lesbian community.

"I cannot tell you what Denise has done for me, not just being a spiritual mentor, but she held my hand for four years," Tyler said. "She has been so wonderful - she is just what a rabbi should be."

Eger officiated on Monday, using a ceremony she herself helped author for the Reform movement.

The couple stood together, under a talit chuppah with Robin's brother and Diane's sister, along with other friends and family and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, the mayor of Beverly Hills and City Councilman Bill Rosenthal. Just beyond the chuppah, a sign reading "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ" pumped up and down.

But a large presence of Beverly Hills police kept about a dozen protesters mostly silent through the ceremony, which combined the traditional elements of a chuppah - blessing the couple over wine, reading the ketubah, the seven blessings - with readings that were clearly about the uniqueness of this occasion

Eger invoked Biblical images of Ruth's loyalty to Naomi, of Miriam inspiring others to sing and dance freely. Tyler was choked up as she uttered the words "Harei At Mekudeshet Li Beruach Ameinu," "I betroth you to me in the spirit of our people."

And it was with particular resonance that Tyler and Olson said, "I do," and that Eger said, "By the power vested in me by the State of California, I pronounce you spouses for life."

After they smashed the glass, the couple switched gears, moving from the teary eyed brides to the strong-voiced political activists they are.

"My name is Robin Tyler, and I'd like to introduce you to my wife," Tyler said to the crowd, which included many members of the television and print media. The couple thanked their family, friends and political supporters. They paid special tribute to the reverends of Metropolitan Community Church, who have been their political and legal allies for years.

As flutes of champagne went around to everyone, Tyler and Olson exchanged bites of a three-tiered white wedding cake dripping with a bounty of flowers - a present from one of Tyler's oldest friends from Winnipeg. Other friends had chipped in for a white limo, and for the wedding cake.

"Other gays and lesbians are excited, but my straight friends are really excited," Tyler said. "I guess they understand, maybe because they are used to ritual and the meaning of it, and they watched me struggle for this."

Today, the struggle paid off.

As their wedding day wrapped up with more interviews and hugs to share with old friends and political allies, Tyler gave a final message into the loudspeaker.

"This is the final ending: And they lived happily ever after."

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