While time has moved awfully slowly for many people these past nine months, it has moved rather quickly for Faith and Anna, a couple of 20-something women who fell in love during the pandemic.
Much of that speed happened because of the affection they felt for each other. One part of the acceleration was because of concern about a potential infringement on their rights.
The two met while participating in a Zoom session in March organized by members of an LGBTQ section on the social media platform TikTok.
Faith, who is Jewish, lived in St. Louis. Anna, whose father is a Christian minister, lived in Nashville, Tenn. After about a month of remotely getting to know each another, Faith, who does clinical research in oncology, went to spend a weekend with Anna, who studies cognitive psychology.
She ended up staying for six weeks. The two have mostly not been apart since then, shuttling back and forth between Tennessee and Missouri. Anna is an extrovert. Faith is an introvert. Both share a strong interest in psychology research.
“Our differences are very complementary to each other,” said Faith, who along with Anna asked that their last names not be used. “I am very much an alone time person, and I don’t know that I have been able to spend this amount of time with anyone in my entire life.”
But given that the two formed such a strong connection, they worried about how their future together could be affected by a 6-3 conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.
After the Senate confirmed President Donald Trump’s nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, to the court Oct. 26, Faith saw an offer on Facebook from Rabbi Daniel Bogard of Central Reform Congregation.
“LGBTQ friends (and friends of friends ... and friends that I haven’t yet met) – if you’re scared about your civil rights, are in Missouri, and want to get married ASAP, I’m here, [Bogard’s spouse and fellow CRC Rabbi] Karen Kriger Bogard is here. Give us 15 minutes notice if you want us looking fancy (or 5 minutes if you don’t mind shlumpy), and we’re in. Our front porch or yours. Rain, cold, or shine,” Bogard wrote. Ninety-nine people shared the post, including a number of fellow St. Louis rabbis.
Bogard has since officiated two weddings for couples, including Faith and Anna, who were concerned that the Supreme Court could overturn a 2015 decision guaranteeing the right to marriage for same-sex couples.
Other local rabbis say that have had conversations with congregants worried about what the future holds for gay rights, among other civil liberties.
“This is about real couples and real people who are scared,” Bogard said. “One is a couple who have been together for more than a decade, 20-something years, and now are worried that these rights are going to go away. Another [couple] is a very sweet COVID-era romance who are scared about their rights.”
It is not a certainty that the court will roll back same-sex marriage rights. But the court last month heard oral arguments in a case, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, in which a Catholic adoption agency is seeking to turn away LGBTQ couples.
Justice Samuel Alito said during the session: “If we are honest about what’s really going on here, it’s not about ensuring that same-sex couples in Philadelphia have the opportunity to be foster parents. It’s the fact that the city can’t stand the message that Catholic Social Services and the Archdiocese are sending by continuing to adhere to the old-fashioned view about marriage.”
In October, Alito and Justice Clarence Thomas, a fellow conservative, also issued a statement sharply criticizing the court’s 2015 same-sex marriage decision.
That decision “enables courts and governments to brand religious adherents who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman as bigots, making their religious liberty concerns that much easier to dismiss,” Thomas wrote in the October statement, when the court declined to hear a case filed by a former Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue a marriage license for gay couples.
Still, legal analysts say it is unlikely that the court will overturn the same-sex marriage ruling.
“It hardly seems likely that one new Justice will so alter the court’s balance that same-sex marriage will be in jeopardy,” Evan Gerstmann, a law professor at Loyola Marymount University, wrote in a Forbes column.
Noah Feldman, a Harvard law professor, wrote in Bloomberg in October: “It is certainly likely that the current conservative majority will recognize exemptions from anti-discrimination law for religious groups like evangelical Christians. However, even after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, and even if Judge Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed [which she later was], there are still five votes to protect gay and trans rights under most circumstances, including at work and in marriage.”
Rabbi James Bennett of Congregation Shaare Emeth said he and other rabbis are “really proud of Rabbi Bogard” for posting the offer to officiate weddings on Facebook.
“Many of us shared it and thanked him and applauded him and added our own voice and our own willingness to be right there with him and serve the community,” Bennett said. “A core value of our Reform Jewish principles is the value of equality and marriage equality and complete inclusion in all rights and practices.”
Bennett said he has not recently performed or planned weddings for same-sex couples worried about the transformation of the court, but he has talked with Jewish community members concerned about threats to the civil rights of LGBTQ people.
“I think many people in our country are feeling vulnerable and at risk — people of color, Muslims, immigrants, and I think the LGBTQ-plus community is a particularly vulnerable community who is feeling at risk, and for good reason,” Bennett said. “The current administration has made it clear that they are not supportive of the hard-fought and well-gained civil rights and liberties that have expanded in recent decades.”
Faith said she and Anna consulted with friends in law school about the impact of Coney Barret’s appointment and came away from the conversations uncertain how it could affect same-sex couples.
Anna also saw how the coronavirus had upended normal life around the world.
“I think 2020 has showed us that you don’t know what is going to happen and no one can say for sure what can and can’t happen,” she said.
In the fall, the two shared a moment of panic that they might have contracted the virus and, “like any good paranoid person, I went down the rabbit hole and thought, ‘Is this how I am going to die?’ ” Anna said.
They both turned out to be OK, but Anna said the experience made her con- sider that “I could die tonight, tomorrow, by any number of things and, in my last moments, was I with the person I want to be with?”
The women knew they wanted to get married but not necessarily so soon. After seeing Bogard’s post and considering the larger circumstances, Faith approached
Anna and asked whether she wanted to get married, with the rabbi officiating. Anna said yes.
Bogard said he normally meets with couples five to seven times before wed- dings “to get to know each other so it’s a really deep, meaningful relationship when we are standing underneath the chuppah.”
In this case, given their concerns, Faith reached out to Bogard. Three days later, they held the ceremony under a tree at the rabbis’ home in Creve Coeur.
“This felt like an opportunity to make a meaningful moment for people who were scared, and to push back against a government and society that is increasingly rep- resenting a minority that is trying to [impose] its will on the rest of us,” Bogard said.
On Nov. 11, when Faith and Anna arrived at the Bogards’ home, the rabbi asked them what they were looking for in the ceremony and explained the Jewish traditions. He told them that everything he said in Hebrew, he would also say in English.
The rabbi also found a person to act as a witness, as mandated by state law, who doubled as a videographer. That allowed some close friends to watch remotely.
Anna, whose father is a Methodist minister and formerly a Southern Baptist, said she found the Sheva Brachot (Seven Blessings) particularly moving.
“Some of the things that were done were Jewish tradition and rooted in history,” Anna said. “And to me, that made it more special and meaningful, that it was rooted in this thing that was bigger than me, bigger than us, an experience that a lot of people had shared at this point in their lives.”