BANGOR, Maine — A cheer rocked Congregation Beth El on Sunday afternoon as their rabbi was about to be married.
“This is a day that God has made and this is a day that the state of Maine has made,” Rabbi Joe Black said as he began the wedding ceremony that united Rabbi Darah Lerner and Kelly Quagliotti, her partner of 27 years, in holy matrimony.
“This is a day about celebrating equality,” Black of Denver said. “This is a day about celebrating community.”
Lerner has been the rabbi of Bangor’s Reform synagogue on French Street since July 2005. She has been an outspoken supporter of gay rights and same-sex marriage in Maine for the past seven years.
A member of the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination, Lerner last year actively campaigned as a rabbi for the referendum that allowed same-sex couples to marry. She spoke from a position of faith about how her religious tradition viewed gay marriage.
About 300 people, many, but not all, from the Jewish Community in Bangor attended the wedding, performed by the rabbi who led Quagliotti through the conversion process and helped Lerner decide to attend rabbinical school. Black met the couple when he was rabbi at a congregation in Albuquerque, N.M.
Lerner and Quagliotti could have wed in Massachusetts or Vermont when same-sex marriage was legalized in those states but they waited.
“We wanted to get married where we live, where our community is,” Lerner said last week.
Quagliotti said last week that they had a non-religious commitment ceremony in 1988 and have felt married for many years. It was the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal in June of the Defense of Marriage Act that meant “we’d really be married 100 percent,” she said.
DOMA prevented same-sex couples married in states that allowed gay marriage from having the same benefits heterosexual married couples had.
“The people of Maine took the first step and I am forever grateful,” Quagliotti said.
The brides walked down the aisle hand in hand about 4 p.m. Sunday and stood under the chuppah, a wedding canopy made by Dr. Eddie Harrow, a founding member of the congregation. Across its top was a tapestry Lerner and Quagliotti bought two years ago at an Arab market in the oldest section of Jerusalem.
“They chose to use it today deliberately as a sign of peace,” Black said.
The chuppah symbolizes the Jewish home, but it’s open on all sides to symbolize that community surrounds the couple, Lerner said last week.
They also signed a ketubah, a Jewish marriage contract, that outlined the responsibilities of each spouse. They exchanged vows and rings, then, sipped wine. At the end of the ceremony, Quagliotti, stomped on a glass wrapped in fabric to remind Jews of the destruction of the temple.
“Mazel tov!” the congregation cheered as the couple kissed and walked back up the aisle as spouses — legally and spiritually.
Lerner, 53, and Quagliotti, 65, met in 1985 in a video store in Oakland, Calif., Black said at the wedding. Lerner was working there and Quagliotti was recovering from a breakup by watching old movies. The quickly became a couple.
Dr. Clifford Rosen of Portland lived in Bangor across the street from the couple before moving to Southern Maine several years ago. He returned Sunday for the wedding.
“This is spectacular — politically, socially and emotionally,” he said.