Review: 'Marry Me However' a Piercing Look at the Costs of Gays Marrying Straights

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday September 20, 2021

'Marry Me However'
'Marry Me However'  (Source:Reeling)

Mordechai Vardi captures many heart-rending moments in his documentary "Marry Me However," which examines the efforts of devoutly Jewish LGBTQ+ people, but the hardest to watch are when straight women who had married gay men speak about what the experience did to them.

It's not pretty. Even women who remain on good terms with their gay exes speak of a level of pain and a loss of self-confidence that can only be described as crushing. They also speak of a kind of innocence and naïveté with which they come to their marriages, a kind of naïveté that shattered along with their lives when their husbands came out. As one woman puts it, " 'Gay' meant someone from Tel Aviv," not from a religious community like her own.

The men themselves seem to take no pleasure from such insincere unions. One man, Zvi, describes his wedding day as the worst day of his life and recalls already thinking about wanting a divorce.

Why do gay men do this? One woman asked her husband that question and quotes him as telling her, "I hoped to be normal," and "I knew you'd be an excellent mother to my children." For his convenience, in other words, and to serve as a baby maker.

That's hardly a surprise given how men have viewed women for millennia, and, far too often, still do. But there's another reason for it: Rabbis advised the men to marry women despite being gay.

The film's participants don't hesitate to call out forcing people to have sex with partners they aren't attracted to. More than once the people speaking here refer to such sexual coercion as "rape." One woman goes as far as to say that because her husband wasn't attracted to her and they were having sex anyway, "I felt we were being raped." We — the plural. Both of them. "That those rabbis were raping us," she adds.

We don't just hear from men. Women speak out, also, on being lesbians and struggling to force themselves into a pre-determined mold that simply did not work for them. One woman Naama, recalls how she fell in love with another woman at seminary, and went to get counseling about it. "You might be a lesbian," the counselor told her. "No, I'm religious," Naama recalls replying. "You might be a religious lesbian," the counselor replied. Naama goto up and left — but now, years later, that's how she introduces herself when appearing about sexuality and religion: "I'm a religious lesbian."

She's also a partnered lesbian with children, not unlike some of the men we meet in this film. One male couple includes a man with no children of his own; he wants his own children, in addition to the children of his partner, who, in his own turn, wants more children.

And yet the religious objections we hear rabbis offer are all about procreation, as if gays and lesbians weren't fruitful and multiplying. (Adding to a global population of more than 7 billion, when the Earth cannot sustainably provide for more than one billion, but that's another story.) One rabbi brings up the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah, calling same-sex commitment inevitably selfish (again, with the presumption that LGBTQ+ people are not parents), and seeming not to recall that God smote those cities for the "sin" not of homosexuality, but of inhospitality.

Another rabbi, Baruch Efrati, refuses even to acknowledge the words "gay" and "lesbian," and declares himself not to be participating "in this discourse" — which, of course, doesn't mean he doesn't participate in the discourse. He does, in the same presumptuous vein, saying he'll "help" gay and lesbian people to "overcome" their problems... all without the slightest comprehension that the attitudes he espouses are the problem.

But this is a documentary that sheds light on such pain in order to illuminate the way forward. Other rabbis hear and respond to the anguish that results from a reflexive insistence on marriage between the sexes, regardless of who the individuals involved are or what they want. One says he would urge LGBTQ+ people not to "reduce yourself" to a status defined solely on "this one rule of the Torah." Another describes to Naami his evolving understanding, saying, "If this is their identity, what do you want from them?" Still another tells Zvi that questions of how to square sexuality with dogma is a "question for God" and encourages him to pray... as though soul-searching and prayer hadn't already led Zvi to divorce his wife and repent of having caused her enormous suffering.

The voices in this film are those of direct lived experience — hard, artifice-stripping, undeniable experience. This is a movie for the devout, for clerics, and for anyone with a genuine interest in understanding what same-sex marriage is all about, and why social and religious circles are wrong to draw innocent women into the "circle of hiding" that closeted gay men draw around themselves.

What's needed, the film's subjects indicate, is for religion to lose the fiction that sexuality is something to be suppressed, submerged, or ignored. The spiritual lives of human beings must be synchronized with their actual, Earthy lives; as one man notes, "You can lie to your spirit. You cannot lie to your body." It's not easy, given thousands of years of tradition that view life on Earth and the facts if human existence as somehow graceless or wicked — but it's necessary.

"Marry Me However" screens at the Reeling Film Festival.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.