On Sunday, June 16, Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation witnessed history when Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum officiated the synagogue’s first same-sex wedding.
Audrey Covner and Diane Dougherty, partners for three decades and the parents of two teenage daughters, were married at the Seattle Aquarium before 250 friends and family members. Covner is the synagogue’s immediate past president.
Covner told JTNews she wants to “be able to show that the synagogue has really moved in a totally different direction.” The Mercer Island congregation has a reputation for being less liberal than North Seattle’s Congregation Beth Shalom, she said. Beth Shalom has been sanctifying same-sex unions for more than a decade.
Rosenbaum resisted support for same-sex marriage, but came on board about a year ago, around the time Referendum 74 was going up for a vote.
“I think what helped me, really most of all, was the fact that Audrey and Diane were members of our congregation for many years,” Rosenbaum said. “We got to know them as a family, and they in most ways were like any other family in Herzl-Ner Tamid. That’s what breaks down barriers: People getting to know each other one on one.
“Stereotypes get dispelled.”
Rosenbaum also cited HNT’s 2011 scholar-in-residence Stephen Greenberg, an Orthodox rabbi and openly gay man and subject in the documentary “Trembling Before G-d,” as a positive influence.
The Conservative movement approved same-sex marriages in 2006 and finalized the guidelines for wedding rituals in 2012. However, Conservative rabbis are not unified in their support.
Covner, a lawyer and activist who helped write the domestic partnership bill in California before moving to Washington, said she would have been happy with a 50-person backyard celebration. But the wedding, in part, was for the community: She wants to set a precedent for younger couples behind them.
“We fought so many years…to see this happen that we want to acknowledge that and all the people that did years and years of work,” she said.
Covner grew up in the Conservative movement and is thrilled with the support she’s received from her community here.
“We’ve never, ever felt uncomfortable,” she said. “We’ve felt so warmly loved and accepted here. It’s been such a wonderful thing to be part of my movement I’ve always been a part of.”
Both of Covner and Dougherty’s daughters attended the Jewish Day School. Currently one daughter, 18, attends the University of Washington, and the other, 17, attends Northwest Yeshiva High School.
The guest list included NYHS’s junior class, as well as Covner’s aging parents, and state Senator Ed Murray (D–43rd).
“Both Diane and I thought we would never live to see this day,” she said. “It’s just amazing to me that this happened within our lifetimes.”
Rosenbaum looks forward to future same-sex weddings under the auspices of his synagogue.
“We want Herzl-Ner Tamid to be seen as a place where gay and lesbian couples and singles are welcome,” he said. “I think this will send this message in a very clear way.”
“I’m so proud of Rabbi Rosenbaum,” said Covner. “It was not easy for him.”