Jewish groups at PrideFest parade celebrate Supreme Court’s decision to overturn DOMA

Sixteen local Jewish organizations  were represented at this year’s PrideFest Parade, held downtown on Sunday. The parade is part of  PrideFest, an annual celebration of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community. Photo: Philip Deitch. For a gallery of images from the parade, visit stljewishlight.com/multimedia.

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Sounding the shofar and dancing the horah beneath a chuppah of rainbow streamers, members of the Jewish community at the annual PrideFest parade downtown in support of the right of gays to marry found a particularly jovial atmosphere for this weekend’s event.

“We’re here to celebrate as a community, as individuals,” said participant Michael Getty, a Central Reform congregant. “We’ve come a long, long, way in a very short time. It’s appropriate to be thankful for that.”

Organizers of the Jewish community’s conatingent in the parade did indeed have plenty to be thankful about given the United States Supreme Court’s decision last week to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which previously denied federal benefits to same-sex couples. The justices also dealt a blow to Proposition 8, a previously overturned California initiative that banned gay marriage, by ruling the measure’s supporters did not have standing to bring the case.

Sunday’s parade goers were jubilant over the high court’s moves which are widely seen as a major victory for gay equality advocates.

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Getty, who is gay, said the decision came at the perfect time for himself and his husband who are celebrating their 10th anniversary this week. “It is the cresting of a wave,” he said. “I think people understand better than they ever have thanks to the decision that everything that shuts same-sex couples out of the institution of marriage is discrimination.”

He hopes it’s the beginning of the end of disparate treatment.

“It’s unfair. It’s unjust and increasingly it’s unlawful,” Getty added.

Ari Kaiman, a rabbi at Congregation B’nai Amoona, called the ruling a step in the right direction.

“[The congregation has] been marching in the Pride Parade for many years now,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier to see so many people in the Jewish community supporting efforts of inclusion and equality for all people.”

Another supporter, Mark Schankman of Chesterfield, who is straight, felt it was a matter of social evolution.

“It means society is changing and becoming more accepting of people who are different,” said the 61-year-old Shaare Emeth congregant who said that his work as a docent at the local Holocaust Museum and Learning Center had taught him about the dangers of treating others as different. “The Jewish community has been discriminated against, persecuted for centuries so I think this decision striking down discrimination is something we can relate to as a community.”

University City resident Rebecca Frazier, who is both African-American and lesbian, said she approved of the court’s choice on gay marriage though she was disappointed by its earlier move to invalidate parts of the Voting Rights Act.

Frazier’s joy was also tempered by the fact that same-sex unions remain prohibited in Missouri. The court’s ruling does not invalidate state laws against the practice.

“I feel like we are on the right track. This is a very happy day,” said the 33-year-old CRC congregant who was also helping to represent Neve Shalom by displaying their placard. “I think that we have made progress with the court decision and we will continue to go further from here.”

Still, the lack of movement locally was a concern among a number of attendees.

“Even with the Supreme Court decision, we still have to think about when we hold hands in public,” said David Kaplan, a Shir Hadash congregant on hand with husband Todd Smith whom he wedded in Boston four years ago. “It’s great to be here in a place where I can be Jewish and gay at the same time and everyone is there and supportive. We hope it expands beyond just one day and one decision. The decision was wonderful. It was great but it was just one step forward.”

Kaplan, 43, said that he still can’t have his husband on his health benefits but at least the ruling on DOMA might help clear some potential tax hurdles. The couple are now planning to adopt a child and feel the decision might keep that process simpler.

“Federally, we’re married and statewise we’re not so we’ve made progress but there is still more to do,” said the Edwardsville resident.

Smith said it was a great step forward but underscored the legislative patchwork on the issue, saying it was frustrating that in Iowa, they would be considered wedded while across the border in Illinois, they would be in a civil union and here in Missouri, their relationship wasn’t recognized at all.

“It’ll be nice when we’re married everywhere and not just a little here and a little there,” he said.

Sheri Benson, 46, of Defiance, Mo., formalized a domestic registry with her partner Michelle Reichert when they lived in St. Louis but she refuses to go out-of-state for a wedding ceremony because it won’t be recognized at home.

“If a heterosexual couple goes to Las Vegas to get married and then comes back to Missouri, they are still married,” said the Temple Emanuel member. “If I go to Iowa and come home, I’m spontaneously not married. That’s unacceptable to me.”

Reichert, 44, said the court’s decision went better than she thought it would. She recalled one commentator who felt same-sex unions might be legal nationwide in five years.

“I’m not sure I’m that optimistic but any progress is nice,” said Reichert.

The couple hopes to have their daughter as maid of honor should the ceremony ever be recognized here.

Margaux Buck-Yael, a rabbinic intern at B’nai Amoona who is also gay, lauded the decision.

“We are thrilled to see progress in the area of full civil rights for gay, lesbian and bisexual members of the community,” said Buck-Yael, who is studying at Jewish Theological Seminary to become a rabbi. “There’s a lot of work still to be done on the state level. There are still issues of housing discrimination and hate crimes that need to be dealt with but this is an absolutely huge step forward for all of us.”

Many straight supporters were on hand as well. Despite a few raindrops, Shaare Emeth congregant Michele Siler, 49, was enjoying the day with her husband and children.

“Being someone who believes in family values, this decision affirms that people do value families no matter how they are made up,” said the St. Louis Countian. “I think it’s pro-family, pro-moms, pro-dads, pro-children.”

United Hebrew congregant Ryan Legow, was on hand to represent Next Dor, the Jewish youth-oriented venue on Waterman Boulevard, Legow said that he would have liked to have seen the high court go further against Proposition 8 but was satisfied overall. The 25-year-old noted that many people his age considered the decision to be more common sense than controversial.

Harriet Radinsky of newly merged congregation Kol Rinah, said it was vital to show her support.

“Since the Jewish community has had to fight for equality too in some ways, it means everything to know that we are celebrating with our brothers and sisters,” she said.

Not everyone got to experience a raucous march on the parade route. Jewish delegation co-chair Rick Isserman hung back to man the group’s information booth near downtown’s Soldiers Memorial where he said the crowd sometimes pressed in two or three people deep.

The CRC congregant said it was a sign of the times that so much of the community was on board with the event.

“The first parade, they had 48 people in the entire parade and they had five Jewish people, all from our congregation,” he said. “Now, we have 17 Jewish institutions supporting us.”

In some ways, attendee Samantha Fisher’s presence was truly unique marching among the Jewish contingent at this gay rights event. She was neither Jewish, nor gay. She simply attended with her family in support of friends at CRC. She has taken her 3-year-old to the parade every year of the toddler’s life.

 “I’m here because I want my daughter to grow up in a world where (she doesn’t) know any other reason to have a parade but for fun,” said Fisher.

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