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by Lev Raphael

Lev Raphael

Lev Raphael is the author of 17 books in many genres and the host of BookTalk, a weekly interview show on Lansing Public Radio.

Lev will publish two new books in January 2006: Secret Anniversaries of the Heart (short stories) and Writing a Jewish Life (memoirs).

This coming Thanksgiving, on our 21st anniversary, my life partner Gersh and I are getting married in Canada.

Over ten years ago, we sat down with our rabbi to talk about getting married in our Detroit-suburb synagogue. It's liberal, welcoming, with mixed marriages, inter-racial couples, and gay and lesbian couples. The rabbi himself is gay and fully committed to offering gay couples the same respect and opportunities for connection to and in their faith as straight ones.

He suggested we read Anita Diamant's "The New Jewish Wedding" for ideas, and we did. But our excitement started to fade as the wedding grew larger and larger in our head with the addition of more and more family members, friends, synagogue members. It soon seemed like that dessert Woody Allen tries to beat down in "Sleeper": out of control in every way.

I wrote some vows, but we didn't make much more progress because two of our parents got sick, one died, and it started to feel less vital, less pressing.

Over the following years, we co-raised two kids with my partner's ex-wife, extensively remodeled our house, traveled, wrote over a dozen books together and separately, and marriage gradually dropped off our radar screen. In a huge step forward, Michigan State University, where Gersh taught, offered health benefits to gay and lesbian partners of faculty and staff, and that made our lives a lot more comfortable. Marriage receded further as an imperative.

Changes in marriage law in Belgium, Holland and elsewhere in Europe cheered us, and depressed us. Europe was becoming more and more liberal while the U.S.--with exceptions like Vermont and Massachusetts--drifted to the right in ways that would have shocked my late mother, who had survived the Nazis and the Communists and loathed what Nixon tried doing to this country. My parents had come to America in 1950 seeking freedom, but as a gay man, as a liberal, I saw that country becoming more oppressive. My own state of Michigan passed a vile anti-gay marriage amendment and its proponents are trying to strip health benefits from gay partners who are state employees.

Meanwhile, our next door neighbor Canada was acknowledging same-sex marriage in one province after another, and Gersh said, "Let's get married there when it's legal at a federal level."

That time has come.

For us, Canada has long been a second home. We're just two hours from the border. We're members of the Stratford Festival, North America's best repertoire company, and have been visiting that town for almost twenty years, sometimes four times a season. This last year and half alone, we've also been to Vancouver, Montreal, the Niagara wine country, and to Langdon Hall, a country manor resort in Ontario. I breathe more freely in Canada. Whatever its problems and quirks, I'm not a lesser human being there, and the country isn't dominated by right wing ideologues.

Stratford is a town whose streets and romantic river seem etched in my dreams, We've even gotten to know some of the actors there. It's a relaxed, lovely, bucolic town where we typically see more plays in a year than I could ever have seen in the New York I grew up in. And many of them end up on Broadway anyway, like Christopher Plummer's one-man show "Barrymore" and his astonishing "King Lear," which we had front row center seats for at Stratford.

Stratford was the obvious location for our marriage, and the place was also obvious, The Church Restaurant, where we've been enjoying fine dining for years. Planning the dinner and the next day's post-wedding lunch have been a blast, because we know the food will be perfect. We've celebrated many birthdays at The Church, including my 40th, when Gersh surprised me with something I'd always wanted but had never mentioned: an emerald ring. This birthstone gift was the prelude to a sumptuous four-hour tasting menu that restaurant's owner had designed just for us. Another year, for dessert, the pastry chef from London made us spun-sugar apples with cream piped in, after the manager assured him we did not want something boring and safe. We have our favorite table there and always feel walking in is coming home--so what better place to be married?

All that was clear, but what about the legal aspects? A quick search on-line brought up several web sites explaining the steps in applying for a marriage license. Perhaps the most helpful was All Seasons Wedding Bureau (, because that's where I learned that Gersh would have to have his divorce legally recognized by the Province of Ontario. We needed a lawyer for that, and the B&B owners in Stratford we have come to regard as good friends gave us a name and an email address.

Within two weeks, the paperwork was moving ahead. The Bureau helped us find an "officiant," someone registered to perform marriages. We've met with him twice now in Stratford to plan the wedding and rehearse the brief ceremony we put together from quotes we loved, quotes on the Bureau's web site where an array of sample ceremonies is available, and text we found there or wrote ourselves, including our favorite lines from Walt Whitman's "Song of the Open Road":

"Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? Will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?"

Because of the Thanksgiving date, we knew many people wouldn't be able to attend, but some of our closest friends can make it, as can both sons and their wives. That's really enough, because at this stage in our lives, we're not looking for a circus. What we want to do is be recognized as a legal couple that's as worthy of acknowledgement as anyone else. If our own country doesn't think we deserve it, then our neighbor of twenty-five million citizens does, and that's not just good enough, it's terrific. Getting married in Stratford, we want to strike a blow against the empire of hatred ruling our country. To celebrate our twenty-one years together as we head into the next twenty-one, and all the years after. We're thankful Canada is giving us that opportunity

Lev Raphael may be reached via his site,


Originally published on Monday November 14, 2005.

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