“The human soul can always use a new tradition. Sometimes we require them.”
The lines, which appear in Pat Conroy’s award-winning book, “The Lords of Discipline,” resonate with our community at a time when so many gay and lesbian couples who have dreamed of a traditional “white wedding” can now realize those dreams.
Joel Blady, a licensed funeral director and embalmer from New Jersey, and Jeff Addy, an Ohio native who markets wheelchairs, walkers, hospital beds and other durable medical supplies, had lived in Charlotte for years before running into one another for the first time at trivia night at Petra’s piano bar in 2010.
Just four short years later, Joel and Jeff were leading the courtroom fight against the North Carolina law that prevented them from marrying. (They were plaintiffs in the United Church of Christ suit.)
As members of Temple Beth El in Charlotte, N.C., both men are proud of the role that the temple and Rabbi Judith Schindler played in the years leading up to the historic rulings on same-sex marriage at both the state and federal levels. [Ed. Note: Temple Beth El’s Associate Rabbi Jonathan Freirich was also a plaintiff in the United Church of Christ suit.]
At least twice before the lawsuit filed against the state of North Carolina, Rabbi Judith escorted delegations of same-sex couples from North Carolina to Washington, D.C., to see them married in a town where same-sex marriage was already legal at the time.
On Oct. 10, 2014, a federal judge in Asheville ruled in favor of Joel and Jeff and their fellow plaintiffs and struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
One year later, to the day, Joel and Jeff were stepping out of a horse-drawn carriage to walk the red carpet into the house of worship where they would be married.
“We wanted to get married,” Joel said. “We were part of the lawsuit that overturned the amendment. We felt it was important to go the next step and actually get married. It was the last leg of that journey.”
QN: Tell me about the wedding.
JB: We wanted the wedding with all of our relatives and friends who could come. We wanted the tuxedos and the cake and the reception. We wanted to do it in the synagogue because we go there every Friday night and it’s our second home. We just wanted what we fought for the right to have. We wanted our ceremony to be as inclusive and as special as possible, so we invited five rabbis, two cantors, a Christian minister and two Buddhist monks. The Christian minister brought the Irish tradition of Jeff’s heritage to our ceremony by doing a hand-fasting. It’s a ritual that gave us the expression: to tie the knot. Our rings were chosen very specifically and purposefully because the Irish Claddagh ring was originally created by a group of Jews who were thrown out of Spain. They had to go into hiding. They took symbols of Kabbalah or Jewish mysticism and created a ring that only would be recognized within the Jewish community so they could wear it out in public without fear of being persecuted. The hands, the heart, the crown are all corollaries to Jewish mysticism.
QN: When it comes to same-sex marriage, we hear a lot from Christian churches on the matter. What’s the Jewish faith’s reaction to same-sex marriage?
JB: There are different sectors in the Jewish community. The Orthodox community still doesn’t recognize the rights of women, let alone the rights of gay people. The Conservative movement, the Reform movement and the Reconstructionist movement all welcome with open arms those of the same gender and offer religious as well as, now, legal wedding ceremonies.
QN: Joel, tell me something about you that not many people know.
JB: I’m a watch collector. I belong to the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors. I have over 850 watches and over 250 clocks. In high school, a pocket watch was given to me. Unfortunately, it was stolen in college. It was later replaced with a truly antique watch and that’s when I got hooked.
QN: Jeff, same question.
JA: I have quite a collection of handmade pottery, pieces that catch my eye. At one point, I lived in Bolivia, N.C., and took classes at Brunswick Technical College, so I got to throw pots and learn how to do pottery.
QN: Tell me something about you as a couple that people might not know.
JB: We’ve not had one single fight in five years. There has been tension but, literally, it was five minutes and then it was over.
JA: There seems to be very little to fight about. After a former relationship, I decided if I have to fight, I don’t think I want to be in that relationship.
QN: How does it feel to be married? Jeff, first.
JA: I love it. It was something I never thought would happen in my lifetime, not in North Carolina. It’s right, it’s the way it’s supposed to be. You should be allowed to be with who you love and there should not be limitations.
JB: It’s always refreshing. Every time I think about the fact that I’m married, it’s like discovering something wonderful. What’s different is that it’s legal, recognized by the state and the government and the nation. We have a document and the rings and a ceremony. I can refer to him as my husband. It’s a little thing, but when I went shopping the other day and they had Valentine’s Day cards out and I started looking, I went: Oh, my gosh! I can really buy one that says to my husband now! He really is my husband! It’s legal! Yeah, I’m a member of the club!