Sydney shul hosts first gay 'marriage'

By Dan Goldberg, September 26, 2008

In an Australian first, a same-sex commitment ceremony was held in a synagogue on Sunday.

Scott Whitmont, 47, and Christopher Whitmont-Stein, 38, stood under a chuppah at Emanuel Synagogue in Sydney in front of about 75 guests.

The pair, who had a civil-commitment ceremony six years ago, exchanged rings, smashed a glass and walked around each other three-and-a-half times.

The celebration followed a decision in May 2007 by the Council of Progressive Rabbis of Asia, Australia and New Zealand to allow its rabbis to officiate at same-sex commitment ceremonies.

Mr Whitmont-Stein, a registered nurse, converted at Emanuel Synagogue in 2002 under the guidance of Rabbi Jeffery Kamins, who also officiated at Sunday's ceremony.

"We wanted to be recognised by our community and officiated by our rabbi, that was important to us," he told the Sydney Star Observer, a gay newspaper. "We didn't set out to be poster boys for gay Jewish marriage."

In a recent letter to congregants, Rabbi Kamins defended his decision. "Contemporary knowledge from biology, psychology and other fields has led to a far deeper understanding of human sexuality," he wrote. "Gay or lesbian relationships are not ‘deviant', but part of human behaviour."

The rabbi noted that Orthodox Judaism would not endorse the violation of Shabbat, "but neither would it shun a person who drove on Shabbat".

Dayenu, a gay and lesbian Jewish group, held a Shabbat dinner last Friday night in honour of the couple.
It is still not legal for homosexual couples to marry under Australian law.

Last updated: 4:10pm, September 25 2008