Liberal Judaism is to be come the first mainstream religious group to perform gay marriage services.

The movement, which includes four lesbian Rabbis, and two gay Rabbis will introduce its ‘Covenant of Love’ to coincide with the Civil Partnership Act which comes into force on December 5th.

However, the ceremony does not replace the need for a couple to perform a civil partnership, as there are no legal entitlements flowing from the blessing. This is unlike a heterosexual marriage where Rabbis, as ordained ministers are authorised to perform both the civil and religious aspects of a marriage.

The Liberal movement first offered same sex commitment ceremonies in 2003, however there was no standardised liturgy and couples did not receive a Ketubah (a Jewish marriage contract). The ceremonies that will be offered from 21st December 2005, will have the same status as a heterosexual marriage in the eyes of the Liberal Rabbinic authorities.

The marriage which will be performed in English and Hebrew will include a declaration of love between the participants: “I will be a loving partner to you in the spirit of the Jewish tradition for you are mine and I am yours.”

Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue’s Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah, who was part of the Rabbinic Working Party that devised the liturgy, said: “the Civil Partnership Act is a historic milestone, granting legal status and recognition to lesbian and gay partnerships. Liberal Judaism champions justice, equality, compassion and inclusion; the new liturgy ensures that these values are put into practice as far as lesbian and gay Jews are concerned, by enabling lesbian and couples to celebrate their partnerships in a Jewish framework.”

The movement have also announced that provided conditions are met they will offer blessings to mixed faith couples: “When same-sex partners are from mixed faiths, as in the case of heterosexual partnerships, Liberal Judaism would stress the benefits of the non-Jewish partner converting to Judaism, but would, if the Rabbinic Conference’s conditions were met, offer the couple a mixed faith blessing.”

Neither the Reform nor Orthodox movements in Britain are considering launching similar ceremonies.

A spokesman for the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks (who heads the Orthodox community) said: “there is no prospect of the mainstream Orthodox community permitting same-sex commitment or marriage ceremonies. Orthodox Jews are bound by biblical and rabbinic law, which only condones sexual relationships between a man and a woman who are married.” Indeed, the Chief Rabbi does not recognise the validity of the Liberal or Reform movements nor the marriages or conversions they perform.