Liberal Judaism to lobby Lords over gay marriage

Liberal Judaism, alongside some prominant Anglican bishops, has thrown its weight behind an amendment to the Equality Bill to allow same sex civil partnership ceremonies to take place in synagogues and other religious buildings.

By Jessica Elgot, February 23, 2010
A gay couple receive a partnership blessing in a Massachusetts synagogue

A gay couple receive a partnership blessing in a Massachusetts synagogue

Gay Jewish couples could soon be allowed to marry in synagogue after religious groups including Liberal Judaism and several Anglican bishops have lent their support to a relaxation of a ban.

An amendment to the Equality Bill is expected to be debated in the Lords next month to pave the way for the registration of civil ceremonies for gay couples in churches, synagogues and other religious premises.

It is likely only Liberal and a few Reform synagogues would conduct gay marriages. But Alexandra Ben-Yehuda of Liberal Judaism said she hoped it would be a step towards changing attitudes across the community.

She said: "In our experience, when things are enshrined in laws it's a huge step towards them being accepted."

Last month Baroness Neuberger, president of Liberal Judaism, called for a change in the law to allow civil partnership ceremonies for same-sex couples to be held in synagogues.

In our experience, when things are enshrined in laws it's a huge step towards them being accepted.

Alexandra Ben-Yehuda

During a debate on a possible change to the Equality Bill, Baroness Neuberger said that she had been told by couples that they and their parents would have been “overjoyed” if they had been able to have the ceremony in a synagogue.

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein, Acting Head of Liberal Judaism's Rabbinic Conference, said: "Liberal Judaism has always been committed to promoting justice and equality for all members of society.

"In 2005 we became the first religious movement in the UK to publish official liturgy, the B’rit Ahavah, for same sex partnership blessings.

"However, a same sex couple wishing to have their civil partnership take place in a religious building is currently prevented from doing so by UK law."

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 does not allow religious premises to be used for civil partnerships or permits religious language to be used in the civil partnership ceremony.

Gay couples can currently receive blessings in Liberal and in some Reform synagogues but the legal ceremony cannot be performed there.

The amendment will be tabled by openly gay Labour peer Lord Alli. Liberal Judaism, the Quakers and the Unitarians have all now said they will support the motion, the Times reported.

The amendment has already been defeated once when it was opposed by the Bishops of Winchester and Chichester. But with more support gathering for the motion, Lord Alli is expected to try again on March 2.

Individual Jewish movements would still be allowed to decide whether they would offer civil partnership ceremonies.

The Conservatives have agreed to back the amendment in the Lords and the move has also received support from the Bishop of Leicester, the Right Rev Timothy Stevens, who convenes the 26 bishops in the House of Lords.

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Last updated: 9:59am, February 24 2010