Meet Faygele Ben Miriam: Same-Sex Marriage's Jewish Pioneer

6.6.2012

By Jerry Portwood

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Eli Sanders looks into the history of a forgotten activist who can be credited with pushing Washington (and the country) into recognizing same-sex marriage as a right

Faygele lights a candle at his last Passover Seder in Seattle, in 2000. /Photo by Geoff Manasse via Tablet

Now that leaders of the Jewish Conservative Movement have approved guidelines for same-sex marriage, you might be wondering what that actually means. It also dovetails nicely with Washington State's move toward marriage equality, despite those trying to keep it from happening. Well, it turns out there's a long history of activism but the man behind it has been largely forgotten. Luckily, Tablet mag has published a profile of Faygele Ben Miriam, the activist the magazine calls "Gay Marriage's Jewish Pioneer" and who can be credited for starting this whole thing. 

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Eli Sanders delves into the history of a man named John Singer who changed his name to Faygele Ben Miriam, "which he took to simultaneously tweak homophobes ('Faygele' is Yiddish for “little bird” or 'faggot') and honor his mother, Miriam Singer." 

As Sanders points out:

"This uniquely insistent man, who died 12 years ago this week, was in his time a huge force in Washington state’s gay politics, and at the leading edge—really, beyond the leading edge—of what would eventually become the national push to achieve same-sex marriage rights. 'He matters because he was part of that first wave of couples challenging the unjust and unfair denial of the freedom to marry,' said Evan Wolfson, founder of the advocacy group Freedom to Marry and author of Why Marriage Matters. 'And he spoke for millions, at a time when, in some respects, gay people were just beginning to speak for full inclusion and the right to be let in, not just left alone.' ”

Faygele got started in New York City, attended City College, fell in love with a guy who was involved with the Gay Activists Alliance, then he moved across the country to 1970s Seattle, "a very slow-moving, un-gay, un-Jewish place." But he sounds like quite a character, as one of his cohort recalls, Faygele "was a very disruptive presence in any environment. He would actually wear dresses that were not as long as the end of his dong." 

The story includes lots of great bits like that. And also positions Faygele on the forefront of, not only the gay rights movement, but as a man who fought hard for equality for all humans. It's an important story that needed to be told. And, as Faygele himself would probably say, this is just the beginning. Now it's someone' else's turn. Read the full story here.

Check out the SLIDESHOW of Faygele Ben Miriam and his friends.

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