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Caught in a whirlwind of same-sex weddings

For one rabbi in Los Angeles, multiple ceremonies each weekend are the new norm.

October 20, 2008|Carla Hall | Times Staff Writer

In general, Edwards won't legally marry same-sex couples just because she can. She has counseled some couples to wait and "not get caught up in the thrill of it." Generally, she puts engaged couples, straight or gay, through four or five meetings of counseling and planning. Now, with the time crunch, "three meetings is a lot," she said.

But one Wednesday in late August, she found herself marrying a couple she had not met in person until the ceremony. Cynthia Kern and Jane Boisseau, who live in New York, have been together 25 years, and Boisseau is a friend and law partner of Dean Hansell, a longtime member of the BCC congregation. Edwards and the couple planned the wedding by phone and e-mail.

"One of the things I appreciated was that she asked so many questions about our history, our relationship, our son," said Boisseau, who has a 7-year-old, Jeremy Kern, with Cynthia, a New York state judge.

On the morning of their wedding, a dozen boisterous family members and friends sat in a semicircle of chairs at the temple as the two brides stood under a chuppah, the traditional Jewish wedding canopy.

Edwards, in a teal silk pantsuit and dark round-framed glasses, blended the personal with the political. "This ceremony takes place because of this," she said, holding up a document. "A California marriage license." The guests applauded.

The marriage license itself, a prosaic piece of paper, has taken on a poetic meaning at same-sex weddings, Edwards said earlier.

"The license has always been something you sign over in the other room with very little fanfare," she said describing what happens when a man and woman wed. "Especially for, I think, gay and lesbian clergy, the irony of signing other people's licenses when we ourselves couldn't get married was painful -- and why we didn't make a big deal out of it. Now, I mention the license during the ceremony and more often than not, people burst into applause."

Four days later, Edwards was spending a Sunday afternoon in Malibu marrying Josh Wayser and Richard Schulte, a couple she has known throughout their seven-year relationship and multiple baby namings. The couple have five adopted children, ranging in age from 4 months to 8 years.

Edwards' only qualm just before their nuptials was whether they could focus on it. Alternately distracted and giddy, the two men were tending to their children and about 60 guests wandering through a beach house offered by friends for the ceremony.

"What I want you to do is everything you can to take it in today," said Edwards, whose calm mien is less preacher, more therapist.

"She knows that's hard," said Schulte, a project manager at Paramount, laughing.

"There are so many moving pieces," Wayser said.

"I might stop a few times and remind you to be present," Edwards said.

But she didn't. Few people at her weddings -- the couple or their guests -- need to be reminded to drink in the moment.

Under an improvised chuppah of beach umbrellas, the couple stood, their children never far from them, their guests wedged onto the deck, serenaded by the muted thud of the ocean waves breaking on the shore.

"Five children later, Richard and Josh are the exemplars of souls who delight in abundance," she told the assembled group. She paused, looking down and fingering her notes as her eyes welled with tears.

After the ceremony, Edwards' own spouse gave her a hug and the two mingled with wedding guests.

"I often cry," the rabbi said of the weddings she performs. But at the Boisseau-Kern nuptials, she said, "That was the first time I didn't cry when I said, 'By the power vested in me.' "

It took only 19 weddings for her to get there.

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carla.hall@latimes.com

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