June 17, 2008
Gay rabbis getting married—and marrying
(Page 3 - Previous Page)Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein and Stephen Ariel Miller
Whatever you do, don't say marriage to Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein unless you mean civil marriage. That's because the Wilshire Boulevard Temple rabbi is very particular about nomenclature.
"We had a Jewish wedding," Stein said with his boyish smile about the chuppah that he and Stephen Ariel Miller had 10 years ago, as well as the renewal of vows they took this Memorial Day. "We had a wedding -- we made it very clear we couldn't have a marriage. We desperately wanted one because it wasn't legal anywhere."
Stein, 50, is insistent on the wording (just as he prefers being called a "rabbi who is gay" rather than a "gay rabbi" - "I'm Jewish first"). "We have to be this way, because this is the reality of life as a gay couple in America." Stein said.
"It's been frustrating for us," said Miller, 52, who manages the litigation support department of a law firm. "If you say you're married, you have the same rights as [married people]. When you make a point we are 'wedded' we don't have the right to be married, it sets a different tone."
Of course they were happy with the tone of their Jewish wedding in 1998.
They sat relaxing, barefoot, with a glass of red wine in the living room of their Spanish-style house on Miracle Mile ("our first home together") as their two dogs tussled on the shag carpet before they were sent to the back of the house, and recounted in that intricate and familiar way of long-term couples how they met 12 years ago.
Stein was the conductor-in- residence of the Houston Symphony "in the midst of wondering if there was a different career path to follow," when his rabbi introduced him to Miller, a man in their Torah study group.
"We met in Torah study on Shabbat in a synagogue...That is beshert." Stein said, using the Yiddish word for "meant to be."
The meeting also came at a time of change in their lives. Stein had decided to leave his illustrious career and become a rabbi, which meant going to Israel -- by himself.
"It was important for me to have a wedding before he left," Miller said. "It was important we go through things together."
But what kind of Jewish wedding would they have?
"Did we want to utilize our wedding in order to make a public statement?" Stein recalled -- after all, Miller was well-connected in the Houston Jewish community, and Stein had performed for 13,000 people. "But instead we decided in order to maximize the sense of kedusha we wanted this to be our closest community of family and friends," he said about the sense of holiness.
They had 175 guests, and gave the seventh wedding blessing to the entire community.
"I will never forget hearing those sacred words and the power of that communication under our tallitot," Stein said about his experience under the prayer shawls under the chuppah.
The minute the glass was broken and the music started playing, he said, "Let's do that again."
Again they did - 10 years later, on May 24, 2008, at Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles. They'd been planning the party for a year, but by the time it occurred, the California Supreme had already sanctioned gay civil marriages.
"I think the best present for our 10th anniversary is to get legally married." Miller said.
"We're getting married!!" Stein said exuberantly, as if he still could not believe it. "It's very important to the millions who happen to be lesbian and gay, and to a growing number of people who see it as a civil rights issue," he said. "We're both of an age where we understand that things politically take time, and we're thrilled we're going to get married next month -- although we sure wish it was 10 years ago. We look forward to a time it will be legal in all the United States of America."
But in a way, he said, "we are glad it worked this way: we both really believe in the separation of Church and State."
That's why on July 13, they will have a "very American civil ceremony" -- reading bits of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., of the California ruling -- and serve brunch for 50 at their home.
"We had a Jewish wedding but it wasn't a legal marriage," said Stein, noting that for the last 10 years they could introduce each other as "partner," "other half," "domestic partner" or "spouse." But after they actually get married, "God willing, there will be one and only one term: 'He's my husband," Stein said. "As Americans, we're really looking forward to that."