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A Lesbian Wedding on a Navy Base
Michael Rankin, M.D.
Capt., M.C., USN (Ret.)

Before I moved to Arlington in 2000, I lived in San Francisco for many years. My synagogue there was Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, a "Reform Congregation with a special outreach to GLBT Jews, their families and friends."

One Friday night, two friends from the synagogue, Ann Levy and Sarah Cohen, called me aside at the oneg. "We’ve lived together as a couple for more than ten years," Ann began. "Our children are getting older. We think it’s no longer a good thing to live together ‘without benefit of clergy.’ We want to get married."
"Wonderful!" I told them. "Mazel tov! I hope you’ll invite me to the wedding."

"We’ll invite you for sure—but there’s more to it than that. We want to get married on the Navy base at Treasure Island. Can you imagine a more beautiful setting, there in San Francisco Bay, with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island, the city itself?"

Others had had the same thought. The Navy was happy to accommodate couples who wanted to marry there, as long as they had a Naval officer sponsor. But these were heterosexual couples. Never, ever, had two women, or two men married on a military base in the United States. This would be a historic first. I was the Navy officer sponsor they had in mind—I couldn’t wait!

We met with the young Navy lieutenant in charge of wedding arrangements, on a Sunday of my Navy Reserve weekend, so I would be in my Navy uniform, which identified me as a four striper, a Captain.

The lieutenant welcomed us to his office, assuming I was the groom. "So which of you two ladies is the bride," he inquired? "We both are!" they shouted in unison. Not waiting to be asked, they told: there will be two brides at this wedding, and no groom!

He gulped. "OK. But do you have a sponsor?"

I raised my hand. "That would be me."

He looked at the four stripes, and grinned. "Then let’s pick a date."

The day of the wedding, a Sunday morning, could not have been more beautiful. Rare for San Francisco, there was no fog—just warm sun.

To make sure there were no glitches, I attended in my formal Navy whites.

I needn’t have worried. As cars arrived at the base gate, sailors assigned the duty greeted and welcomed them, and asked if they were there for the Cohen-Levy wedding. Those who said yes were directed to the site.

The garden service was conducted by the openly gay rabbi of the congregation. Sarah and Ann’s parents proudly held the poles of the Chupah, the wedding canopy. Their daughters Leah and Rachel, ages 6 and 8, were their "attendants." Co-workers from their law firms ushered us to our seats, asking with a grin, are you friends of the bride or the bride? It was amazing.

In the traditional Orthodox wedding, the bride walks around the groom as the rabbi or cantor chants the Sheva Barochot, the seven wedding blessings. At this wedding, Ann walked around Sarah for the first three blessings, Sarah around Ann for the second three. For the seventh, the women embraced.

They broke the glass together, and immediately, the synagogue’s own klezmer band—"Gay Iz Mir" by name—began a freilach, a joyful wedding song, and led us into the reception. It was hard not to start dancing before we got to the Admiral Nimitz Officers Club, where the wedding lunch was served. The Nimitz had seen many celebrations, but never before a lesbian wedding!

The dancing continued after lunch—women with men, men with men, and women with women. The coordinating Navy lieutenant, who had observed the wedding standing on the periphery, peeked in. I took his hand and brought him into the Hora circle. The sailors who’d guided guests to the wedding site joined us as well. They came for the food and drink, but stayed for the dancing. These new friends were in awe of the women held high on chairs as we danced around them—certainly no wedding they’d been to had that!! It was a good day for the lesbians, for the gays, and for the Jews. It was a good day for the Navy too. It will be a better day when "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell" is overturned.


Editor's Note:  This true story demonstrates the elusive wisdom of that old Navy saying about how things should be done: "There's the right way, the wrong way, and the Navy way."