Interview: Jewish Lesbian Couple Are First to Sign Civil Union in Colo.

Photos by Stevie Crecelius

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Two Jewish women, Anna and Fran Simon, both of Denver, Colo., became the first same-sex couple to be issued a Civil Union, license at a midnight ceremony on May 1 in the Denver Office of the Clerk and Recorder. Rabbi Steve Booth participated in the rite, as well, having long-served beside them as an activist in this cause. In fact, it wasn’t the Simons’ first marriage ceremony.

Full interview after the jump.
Q: When did you decide to marry?

Anna Simon: Back in 2005 we had a Jewish wedding, so that we would be married in the eyes of God before we had children. We are somewhat traditional in that way, and felt it important to commit before our family and friends with a rabbi. 100 friends and family attended and Rabbi Jamie Korngold officiated. There were no civil legal ramifications of that ceremony at all, so it was very important to us that there one day be a civil service, and at it to have a rabbi and say the Shehecheyanu (prayer for special occasions) for being joined in the eyes of the law.

Q: Was the Jewish community able to be there for you?

Fran Simon: We felt incredible support from the Jewish community here in Colorado. From the Anti Defamation League that testified numerous times, Rabbi Steve Booth Nadav was at many hearings and votes. Keshet, the LGBT organization, was incredibly supportive, B’nai Havurah (congregation) and Judaism Your Way have also been very supportive and helped us achieve civil unions and continue in the fight for marriage equality. It was because of Steve’s role in the civil union fight that we wanted him to be part of our civil ceremony. Many faith leaders were involved in winning these protections.

Homosexuality in Judaism

The Reconstructionist movement, in its 1992 Report of the Reconstructionist Commission on Homosexuality, expressed its support for the full inclusion of gay men and lesbians in all aspects of Jewish life.

The Reform Movement‘s March 2000 Resolution on Same Gender Officiation states that, “the relationship of a Jewish, same gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual.”

The Conservative Moment: Homosexuality, Human Dignity and Halachah: A Combined Responsum was adopted in June 2012 by the Committee of Jewish Law and Standards, voted 13-0 with one abstention to formally approve same sex marriage ceremonies.

Orthodoxy: No mainstream Orthodox organization has endorsed same sex marriage. A growing number of independent Orthodox rabbis, starting with Rabbi Steven Greenberg have conducted such rituals.

Above: the Simons’ Brit Ahuvot, Female Lovers’ Union, between the bride and the bride

Q: How did the two ceremonies differ?

Anna Simon: We met the rabbi for our Jewish wedding, Jamie Korngold, to study the elements of a Jewish wedding, the brit (covenant), the sheva brachot (seven blessings), the priestly blessing, the kiddush — our rabbi, as a feminist, had already made tweaks to the ketubah for her own wedding, and ketubah for men and women too, that fit for us as well. The traditional ketubah is based on ownership law, but for our marriage we had a brit ahuvot (feminine plural for Covenant of Beloveds). We drew on Jewish partnership law, not ownership law, to formulate our document and the ceremony.

Fran Simon: We both broke glasses. It was extremely emotional for us when the rabbi said it was valid and binding. We honestly didn’t think it would make that much of a difference, but it did. We became somehow very much more committed to one another. Doing so in front of friends and family, and everyone agreeing to support our relationship, was overwhelming. The amount of love and support at both ceremonies was tremendous.

Q: Were there unifying factors between the two ceremonies?

Fran Simon: We customized our vows for our wedding, and our civil union incorporated the same themes. We designed our brit ahuvot with elements of justice, righteousness, lovingkindness and faithfulness.

Anna Simon: We both believe that customizing for authenticity and honor is really important.

Did these rituals change your relationship with your extended families?

Fran Simon: I believe my family saw us differently as a result. Leading up to the Jewish wedding, my parents weren’t telling their friends. I don’t think they saw it as a marriage until it got closer.

Anna Simon: Fran’s father’s toasts had everyone in tears. At our rehearsal dinner he said, “You know Francine, when you came out as a lesbian to me, I was really sad and I told you then, I had always wanted to dance at your wedding, and tomorrow — I will.”

Anna Simon: I want to add something about Fran’s mother, who always loved me completely: The wedding ritual changed her perspective and attitude about Fran’s being gay.

Fran Simon: My mother refers to Anna as her “daughter” and asks her to call her “mom.” As a consequence of the wedding, she told all of her friends about us. She’s completely out about her daughter now, after struggling with it for many years.

Q: Anna, what about your mother?

Anna Simon: Well, when I told her I was in love and this is the one, her first two questions were “Is she Jewish?” and “Where did she go to school?” And she was very happy with the answers to both those questions; that I married a nice Jewish girl.

Q: Where did you go to college? I imagine readers would now be curious.

Anna Simon: Fran went to Cornell and then Stanford. I went to Earlham and the University of New Mexico.

Q: Do you have children?

Fran Simon: We have a son who will be six in July. He was our ring-bearer at the civil union.

Q: You now both have the same last name. Was that a difficult decision?

Anna Simon: If I was married to a man, I would most certainly not have changed my name. Fran felt more attached to her family name. We didn’t want our children to always be answering the question: “Who is this woman with that other name?” Not only that, but Jeremy is the one that will carry on the Simon name, as there are no other male grandchildren in the Simon family.

Q: Have you had to make accommodations around caring for your son out there in gun country?

Fran Simon: Not really. They did have “mom’s night” and “dad’s night” at our school, and when we questioned the gender separation they said it’s just so that they don’t have everybody show up all at once. So we said, “why not just call them ‘parents’ nights?” That worked.

Anna Simon: We are very happy with people’s attitudes here, very warm and welcoming. Jeremy went to daycare at the university where I work. And when he got older we switched to our neighborhood school and we’ve benefited from families that have come before us. Though we are still doing some educating, we feel completely accepted.

Fran Simon: I think we also shelter ourselves. We have been in the media a lot in this fight for civil unions, and I read the comments in some of the articles calling us terrible parents, etc. People don’t say things to our faces, but in this state there are certainly a lot of people who don’t support our relationship.

We’ve come such a long way; in 2006 we had Referendum I, which was domestic partnerships, and only 47% of the state supported it. But in the last couple of years support for civil unions has been 70% or higher. And now for marriage, one poll I saw was 50% for and 38% against. All this in a state where a 2006 amendment defines marriage as between a man and woman. Colorado was labeled the “Hate State” in 2002 due to Amendment 2, which allowed legal discrimination against LGBT people.

Q: New Jersey has a State Amendment, that may come up for a vote, that would require health insurance to cover treatment for those who want to cease being homosexual and attain a heterosexual life. How would you address such a situation?

Anna Simon: There is not just moment when someone makes a decision to be attracted to someone of the opposite sex or the same sex. It is a very deep part of a person’s biological and psychological makeup. We only have to look a little bit back in history and see what happened when people writing with their left hand were forced to use their right hand. They could manage, but it was not what their natural position was. And we have learned very clearly there is harm in such forcing. I think it is a good analogy for one’s sexual orientation except on a more serious scale: There is horrible damage done through this so-called reparative therapy — suicide and destroyed lives in the wake of these well-intended but damaging therapies.

Fran Simon: Well-intended?

Anna Simon:  A parent who wants their child to be straight loves their child, and thinks that is the healthy way to be. My heart goes out to that parent; rather than trying to change their child, I would encourage them to find support to accept their child for who they are. PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, is a helpful organization to seek out for guidance and support.

Q: What role does faith play in your lives?

Anna Simon: Our faith exists in everything that we do. We say Jewish prayers before we eat, and at bedtime; indeed at every significant event. Jewish ritual is woven into our everyday lives; at the end of each day we sing the shema with our son and talk about the things for which we are grateful to God.

Q: Did prayer help you hold the course in advocacy?

Fran Simon: I would say that faith played a role in the civil unions battle. It really was an emotional roller coaster at times. Last year, the Republican leaders essentially killed 30 bills just to kill the Civil Unions bill. We kept our faith, knowing it would pass, just as we know marriage equality will come to be in the near future.

Anna Simon: I feel strongly that we are called to the lives that we have and the work on justice. In our brit ahuvot, we talk about tikkun olam (repairing the world). We were able to testify a half a dozen times regarding this bill, in part because of where we live and the type of work we do, and given that we are out and at less risk than some. I believe literally that God intended us to do this work.

Q: How did your son relate to the civil ceremony?

Fran Simon: One Colorado organized a lot of the press who came. We did bring our son to testify at the hearings this year. Not previous years, just now, when we were very confident that it was going to pass. He also attended the rallies; he was part of help makeing this bill become law. We felt extremely honored to be the first couple to receive the civil union. Our son saw the signing pens on the document table, and asked for one before the ceremony. And I said, “No, these are for very special people.” And then, at the bill signing, one of the bill’s sponsors, Senator Guzman, spontaneously gave one the pens to the governor to give to Jeremy.

Anna Simon: I want to acknowledge how grateful we are to all the people in Colorado who supported the effort, and to our legislators, who showed courage and real leadership in passing this bill. There are many people that put in time, money, effort and sacrifice to make the bill pass.

Q: Thank you so much. May you be blessed with long healthy lives together in your loving Jewish home, and may your work for justice prevail.

Rabbi Goldie Milgram’s Living Jewish Life Cycle: How to Create Meaningful Jewish Rites of Passage at Every Stage of Life (Jewish Lights Publishing) provides traditional and inclusive step-by-step guides to all Jewish rites of passage. Also see the websites ritualwell and Keshet for information on the subject.


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