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If I Were a Gay Man...

In the musical Fiddler on the Roof, the long-suffering milkman Tevye sings of "Tradition," which includes not allowing single men and women to dance together during weddings. Nowadays, Tevye would have to get used to seeing even same-sex couples dancing together, but he'd freak out if he were to show up at Congregation Etz Chaim Friday night. During the Shabbat services, Rabbi Greg Kanter will talk about gay and lesbian marriage in Jewish tradition.

Kanter, who is gay, leads a congregation composed mostly of Jewish gays, lesbians, and their straight families and friends. And while gay rights are guaranteed by law in many cases -- employment, housing, and medical benefits, for example -- many religions are still trying to figure out where gay marriage fits in. Churches offer "different" ceremonies for gays, giving them names like "commitment ceremony" or "holy union."

"My view is that gays and lesbians are entitled to the same things that everyone else is," Kanter says. So he conducts traditional Jewish weddings for gays, "with some minor changes in terms of mentions of gender."

Otherwise, he says, tradition is followed. In a private ceremony before the actual wedding, for example, the partners sign a ketubah, a Jewish wedding document. And while making their vows, they stand beneath a chupah, the traditional wedding canopy. A wine glass is broken at the end of the ceremony, as is customary -- but with a twist. "I have both partners break a glass," Kanter says, "because I see that as egalitarian."

Most Christian denominations are ruled by a formal hierarchy, but Jewish congregations are not, so Kanter has more leeway than other church leaders to do as he sees fit. "I don't have to risk what some of these Christian ministers are going through, being put on trial [for performing gay marriages]," he explains. "That's not an issue for me."

And, in his congregation, spur-of-the-moment weddings don't exist. Couples participate in up to three months of meetings with Kanter to prepare for the big day. "I get to know them as individuals and as a couple," he says. "I make sure that we answer all of their questions, because stress comes primarily from unanswered questions."

Kanter's Friday-night talk will be aimed at people who want to know more about gay Jewish marriages and couples considering them. He adds: "Gay and lesbian couples I've married will be there to share their experiences as well."

-- John Ferri

Congregation Etz Chaim Shabbat services begin at 8:30 p.m. Friday, August 28, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Lauderdale, 3970 NW 21st Ave., Oakland Park. Admission is free. Call 954-233-1582.

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John Ferri

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