Davi Cheng reflects on her life before California’s Proposition 8, and her hope for the future after New York’s recent decision to legalize same-gender marriage.
For much of my life, I kept a secret. When co-workers shared with me about their lives, I so envied them. It’s not that I don’t have a life. My spouse and I have been together for 31 years; we were college sweethearts. I had plenty of stories I wanted to share, but knowing that same-gender relationships can evoke heated religious and political debates, I kept silent.
I am a member of Beth Chayim Chadashim, the world’s first GBLT synagogue established 1972 in Los Angeles. Last Friday night, when our cantor started our Shabbat service by singing, “Start spreading the news, I am leaving today, I want to be a part of it, New York, New York…”, the congregation erupted into cheers and shouted “California next!”
In 1998, in our 18th year together, we asked our rabbi to “marry” us. We stood under the chuppah, as our congregational friends shouted “Mazel Tov!” But only one relative joined us that day.
In 2004, when then San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom decided to issue marriage licenses to lesbians and gays, we jumped in our car and drove all night from Los Angeles. Six months later, we wept to hear those marriages annulled by the California Supreme Court.
Undaunted, in 2008, when same-gender marriage became legal in California, we were first in line again.
I am glad we were one of 18,000 couples legally married in California before Proposition 8 overturned it. But even if Prop 8 had been defeated, there are still states benefits and about 1,138 federal rights, protections and responsibilities automatically granted to married heterosexual couples that are denied to even married gay couples. Go ahead, do a Google search – insurance, income tax, social security benefits, immigration status, and more. I hadn’t realized legal recognition could be so powerful.
And it proved powerful in another way as well: because we could “legally marry,” I felt more relaxed about sharing, and my co-workers in turn became more open to hearing about my relationship. It opened a whole new world to all of us – beginning with their cheerful words of congratulation and support when we got married to developing into a better understanding and open dialogue with one another.
Mazel Tov to New York!
What do you think? Should same-gender marriage be legalized in your State?
Davi Cheng is the Past President and current Ritual Chair of congregation Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC) in Los Angeles. Davi designed and helped create the stained glass windows, Ner Tamid and Ark doors of her synagogue, she is also involved with the URJ West District and Be’chol Lashon’s International Jewish communities.