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Extraordinarily Ever After: A St. Louis Wedding

Russell Strom (left) and Scott Lowenbaum were married May 17 at Temple Israel.  300 pxls 2008
Richard Weiss | St. Louis Beacon archive

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: A gay wedding in St. Louis is no longer an extraordinary affair. Though there is no official count, ministers and rabbis will tell you that dozens of gay weddings have been celebrated in churches and synagogues here in recent years.One took place on Saturday at Temple Israel when Scott Lowenbaum married Russell Strom.

This one was arguably an extraordinary event. It was the first gay wedding held at Temple Israel, a congregation founded in 1886. And it occurred at an extraordinary time. Scott and Russell exchanged rings just a couple of days after the California Supreme Court struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage. The 4-3 ruling declared that the state Constitution protects a fundamental "right to marry" that extends equally to same-sex couples. It’s unclear whether that decision will stand. California voters could get a chance in November to amend the state constitution to prevent same-sex marriages. But it’s very clear that we as a nation are moving toward a higher degree of acceptance for gay marriages.

The extraordinary is becoming ordinary.

Still same sex marriages do not happen every day here – or even every weekend. So one can make the case that these weddings fall into a realm of their own, straddling ordinary and extraordinary, traditional and modern, conventional and unconventional.

The Lowenbaum-Strom wedding, celebrated on a perfect spring evening before 225 friends and family, was all of that. As a guest, you could not help making comparisons between a straight wedding and this one.

Few probably ever imagined themselves in such a setting only a few years ago. Not Scott’s proud parents, Michael and Lecie Lowenbaum. Still, they had no problem embracing the concept. One of their wedding gifts to the couple was the date. Scott and Russell got married on Michael and Lecie’s 28th wedding anniversary, May 17.

Both parents come from families with well-established reputations for celebrating holidays and life events in glorious and creative ways. Accordingly, Michael and Lecie pulled out all the stops to make the wedding as joyful and elegant as any that day in St. Louis with the event moving from Temple Israel’s main sanctuary to dinner and dancing at the Grand Hall at Union Station.

They married the ordinary to the extraordinary. The invitations called for black tie and formal gowns with “sparkle.” Not everyone got completely with that program, but at least a few guys showed up in rhinestones and sequins.

The ceremony began in a most traditional way with Pachelbel’s Canon emanating from the organ, Russell striding down the aisle accompanied by his sister, Breanne, and then a processional of groomsmen and women. The men sported tuxes with green ruffles. The women defied tradition: Their gowns were actually quite flattering -- understated sage green dresses. All were of different styles and lengths. They carried daisies and roses to an altar that was framed by huge orange and white gladiolas.

The big moment came with a flourish of Purcell’s Trumpet Tune and Air as Scott walked down the aisle arm-in-arm with his mother and father. The guests stood and applauded. It was tempting for a moment to consider this a “bridal” moment. But clearly here was a second groom. He was decked out in a bib and tucker of his own design and wore on his face a sea of expressions, including but not limited to pleasure, bemusement, excitement, pride and terror.

The parents planted a kiss on each of Scott’s cheeks and left him at the altar where he and Russell stood under a chuppah, or wedding canopy, before Rabbi John Franken.

To their right and attached to an easel was the Ketubah (a Jewish marriage contract). “Historically, the Ketubah was meant to protect wives in marriage and define the obligations of the husband to the wife,” the guests learned from program notes provided. “We have chosen a Ketubah that connects us as equals.”

Rabbi Franken did almost all of the speaking during the ceremony at Scott and Russell’s request. Though it was his first same-sex ceremony, he appeared absolutely undaunted. He spoke in a measured and authoritative way about how this union, though unusual in contemporary terms, was very much in the Jewish tradition.

“I can’t help but be reminded of perhaps the most remarkable relationship in the entire Hebrew Scriptures,” he said. “It’s not that of Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rachel. Not even that of God and Moses. It is, rather, the bond of Jonathan and David. For Jonathan, the prophet Samuel tells us, loved David as himself, so much so that he risked his own life so that David’s would be spared. And, Samuel tells us, David’s love for Jonathan was equally deep. To anyone who ever doubted that such a true, deep, and natural love could exist, they need only look to the two of you for an answer. For yours is a a love which can only be described as ... sublime."

To be sure. Scott and Russell, both 25, met several years ago. Scott is an artist with a growing international reputation. He specializes in chickens and you will just have to attend one of his showings in New York or Paris to appreciate them properly. Russell is a physician and is starting a residency in neurosurgery in New York.

“I can’t imagine a better lifetime companion than Scott,” Russell wrote in a message that Rabbi Franken read on his behalf. “Scott has taught me what love is.... I feel truly humbled that he has chosen to spend the rest of his life with me.”

And Scott wrote: “I’ve always been incredibly close with my family and friends and never thought that there was any greater form of compatibility and love … until I met Russ.”

And so Scott and Russell were married as Rabbi Franken put it “in the sight of God, this community, the Jewish people and, one day we pray, of all people.”

On this day, the extraordinary and the ordinary had been made holy.

Richard H. Weiss, contributing editor at the Beacon, is a rhinestone-wearing Lowenbaum family friend and next-door neighbor.

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