Chelsea Clinton's Interfaith Marriage Challenge: Kids, Holidays, Soul-Searching

The obstacles Chelsea and husband Marc Mezvinsky can expect to face.

August 2, 2010, 11:08 AM

Aug. 2, 2010— -- Now that they have officially said "I do," Chelsea Clinton and husband Marc Mezvinsky have joined the growing ranks of interfaith marriages.

Mezvinsky, 32, is Jewish, while Clinton, 30, was raised Methodist, like her mother Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Their Saturday ceremony, which was co-officiated by Rabbi James Ponet, a Jewish chaplain at Yale, and the Rev. William Shillady, a Methodist minister from New York City, was a nod to both their faiths.

It featured many Jewish traditions: the couple married under a chuppah or canopy; the groom wore a yarmulke or skull cap and tallis or prayer shawl; friends and family recited the Seven Blessings typically read at traditional Jewish weddings.

"To me that's an indication that the groom identifies Jewishly," Edmund Case, the head of told "It's also apparent that Chelsea must have been fine with it or it wouldn't have happened. Also, given the prominence of her famiy, they must have been accepting of it."

There were concessions to Clinton's faith, as well. Besides the inclusion of a Methodist minister, the ceremony took place before sunset, the official end of the Jewish sabbath.

According to recent surveys, one in three U.S. couples are in religiously mixed marriages and half of all Jews marry outside their faith. Experts say there are issues that can arise for many interfaith couples.

"I always tell people to extend their thoughts into the future," Rev. Susanna Macomb, an ordained interfaith minister and author of "Joining Hands and Hearts, Interfaith, Intercultural Wedding Celebrations, A Practical Guide for Couples," told

Before she marries an interfaith couple, Macomb gives each partner a questionnaire to help them consider what their future household will look like -- how they will raise their children, what holidays they will celebrate -- and create a blueprint for their lives together.

"If someone is thinking of converting, I tell them they really have to do some soul searching, so they don't it for the wrong reason -- for someone else," Macomb said.

She also said one of the biggest mistakes interfaith couples make is not presenting a united front to their families. It's important that they make decisions as a couple and then present them -- together -- to their families.

"It's easy to blame the newcomer in the family," Macomb said. "It's up to you to protect your spouse from your parents. Make no mistake, on your wedding day, you're choosing your partner. Your marriage must now come first."

Mark and Patty Gilgus of Lee's Summit, MO, learned that after 20 years in an interfaith marriage. Mark, 57, was a prominent member of the Kansas City Jewish community, while Patty, 49, who was raised Southern Baptist, had never dated a Jewish man when the couple met and fell in love.

Married in an Italian restaurant by a justice of the peace, they didn't think much about the issues ahead.

But as soon as they had their son Seth, difficulties began to arise. The first was how to have a bris, the Jewish ceremony for circumcision, without Patty converting. The couple ended up getting a Jewish urologist instead of a rabbi.

After attending both a Christian church and Mark's reform temple with Seth, it became clear the couple would have to choose one.

"Our son started asking 'Am I Jewish or Christian?'" Patty told

When he was around five and ready to start religious education, Patti said they made the decision to raise Seth, who is now 16, Jewish.

"I went through a lot of guilt," she said. "I have parents and family who are still very much Southern Baptist and believe there is only one way to get to heaven."

"If you are good people and lead a good life," Mark said, "God will take care of those decisions."

Patty, who said interfaith marriages are not for the "faint of heart," realized it was time to choose between her family and and the family she and her husband had created.

"Whatever the issue, in any relationship, one of the parties has to show greater flexibility and willingness to accomodate the other," Mark said, pointing out that Patty was able to do that in their marriage.

But, he added, it's also important that interfaith couples be flexible, respectful and open-minded about each other's religions. Patty has served in prominent positions on Jewish community boards and she and Mark belong to an interfaith group, where he has studied the New Testament for the first time.

Ultimately, Mark said his life is richer for marrying Patty. "I would not have learned as much as I have without my interfaith marital experience," he said. "It's been challenging at times, but all in all I've had a great life."

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