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
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
"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
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
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
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
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."