A seemingly innocuous email went out last Friday to the 1,000 families of Portland's Jewish Congregation Neveh Shalom.

But the contents of that communiqué from the rabbi for the synagogue affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism could be seen as a startling change of direction on one of Oregon's hottest hot-button issues: same-sex unions.

Starting immediately, Neveh Shalom will sanctify the ceremonies of same-sex couples.

For a traditionally more conservative sect of Judaism, Portland's Congregation Neveh Shalom in Southwest Portland has long welcomed openly gay families into its congregation, according to its leader, Rabbi Daniel Isaak, 58.

Yet it took a seminal series of decisions in the past year at the national level by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement to clear the way for Isaak's announcement.

"Homosexuality is certainly not a new issue for Neveh Shalom," Rabbi Isaak wrote in his email message last week. "The practical impact of [this] decision is that we will sanctify the relations of Jewish same sex couples who ask that such ceremonies take place in our congregation."

Isaak says no same-sex couples have yet stepped up to accept his offer but that his decision was right in line with other landmark civil rights decisions.

"A generation ago we went through the same process in terms of egalitarian treatment of women in our congregation," Isaak says. "It was not long ago that interracial marriage was the hot-button topic.

"Now," he says, "it's just something we don't even consider."

Isaak says response has been "exceedingly positive," with one lone congregant angered more by how Isaak chose to disseminate his message than by the message.

Each of the estimated 900 conservative synagogues nationwide is free to deal with same-sex unions as it sees fit. But Basic Rights Oregon's interim communications director, Melissa Chernaik, says it's a big deal whenever gay rights gets accepted by a local religious community.

"It's wonderful and great news, and interesting that more religious congregations and leaders are embracing gay and lesbian Oregonians and families," Chernaik says. "A lot of religious institutions, even the more conservative ones, are recognizing the fair and equal treatment of all Oregonians, regardless of sexual orientation, as a moral imperative."