June 17, 2008
Gay rabbis getting married—and marrying
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Rabbi Lisa Edwards and Tracy Moore
As the leader since 1994 of the first gay and lesbian synagogue, Rabbi Lisa Edwards couldn't be happier about the California court's decision to grant couples marriage licenses. Every day that led up to the decision -- whether the court would grant a stay, whether gay marriage would finally happen in California -- Edwards approached with bated breath, along with her partner, Tracy Moore and the whole of her Reform community. And then bam! The week before Shavuot the ruling came down, and "everything happened in a flurry," Edwards said.
"Our time has come!" she wrote in an e-mail to the community inviting them to the June 17 celebration. "Singles, couples, no intention of marrying -- no matter -- this is a momentous day in the history of our LGBT civil rights movement. Join the celebration!"
While Edwards and Moore, who have been together for 23 years, also obtained a license on Tuesday, and will have a civil ceremony "sometime this summer," Edwards looks back on their 1995 Jewish wedding as the event that moved her most.
"At the time, I said that that was more important -- and in my life, day-to-day, it probably still is more important," Edwards said last week as the couple sat for an interview on the sofa in her office at BCC, beneath a kitschy poster of "The Ten Commandments." Edwards, 54, was casually dressed in a sweatshirt and Crocs, with her signature bucharian kippah cap and Harry Potter black circle glasses. Moore, 64, came from her job as capital campaign manager at public radio station 89.3 KPCC wearing a crisp, linen white shirt and tan pants and silver jewelry to match her straight white hair, cut longer on one side than the other.
"We felt like this was community, that was becoming home," Edwards said of the decision to have a chuppah in just after she began leading BCC.
The women met in 1983, working together at a nonprofit company in Iowa City. Edwards was not yet a rabbi -- she wasn't even in rabbinical school -- and Moore wasn't even Jewish. They moved in together the following summer.
"When we got together, it was mutually liberating -- we were both able to follow what was authentic for ourselves," said Moore, who went for her MBA.
Edwards decided to become a rabbi - which meant spending a year in Jerusalem.
"Tracy had no idea what she was getting herself into," Edwards said.
It was 1988, and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the rabbinical school for the Reform movement, did not have an open policy toward gay and lesbian students (the movement's Central Conference of American Rabbis [CCAR] did not allow official ordination of gay rabbis until 1990), but Edwards and Moore were completely open about their relationship.
"I think it's true to say that we were the first out couple -- not the first gay people," Moore said. "There was a huge consciousness-raising among students and among the administration -- there were some real 'big' conversations, and Lisa was the leader of a lot of that and continues to be, in a way," said Moore, who spent her time in Israel working on a project that later became the book, "Lesbiot: Israeli Lesbians Talk About Sexuality, Feminism, Judaism and Their Lives," (published by Cassell Press, in 1995). She had no plans to convert at the time. "It didn't occur to me," she said.
But when the couple came to Los Angeles, where Edwards resumed study at HUC-JIR, the issue came up again.
"I want to point out what's really funny: We thought our fight was going to be about being gay," Moore said, but it turned out that the fact that they were an interfaith couple was a bigger problem. (Then, as now, most rabbinic schools prohibit interfaith relationships for rabbinic students).
Rabbi Laura Geller, a groundbreaker in the world of women rabbis, who at the time was at USC Hillel, told Edwards and Moore, "Look, you're working on the whole gay issue, you're pushing the movement in that area. You can't take on another issue." So Moore decided to convert.
"Lisa needs to be a rabbi -- she's born to be a rabbi. So make me a Jew," Moore remembers thinking. "I had no idea what it meant."
Perhaps it was the fact that Edwards was so invested in moving the Reform movement toward acceptance of gays that made a Jewish wedding so important to them. After Edwards took over BCC in 1994 -- she had been ordained at HUC-JIR in New York and Moore had already converted -- they began to plan the wedding.
"I think a small part of the motivation was to model it for the congregation," said Edwards, who in the 1990s conducted more "AIDS funerals" than weddings.
"We also felt in an indefinable way that having a chuppah would deepen and expand our relationship, that something ancient and Jewish would change us somehow," Moore said.
"And it did," Edwards added.
Ten of their friends organized a potluck party with 300 friends, relatives, congregants and rabbis, officiated by Geller and Edwards' brother, also a Reform rabbi. They had to create many of their own rituals, including liturgy, as at the time they were one of the firsts.
"You go into the chuppah as individuals, and you come out a couple," Moore said. "The purpose of ritual is to change your status in the some way, in the eyes of other people, who look at you in a way they haven't before."
Edwards added: "I think it deepened the bond. It made us feel more secure. This was who we are," she said.
What about a civil marriage? Did they have their eye set on what would take another 12 years to arrive -- on June 17, 2008?
"I want to paint you a picture," Moore said to describe the mid-1990s. "There were no civil rights organizations that were working on gay marriage: They were working on discrimination in the workplace, gays in the military and other issues."
At the time, both said they never would have dreamed this would happen, and a Jewish wedding was so meaningful.
"Jews have sort of lived outside the law in lots of places and at lots of times in their lives. So I think that Jewish marriage has a different meaning, or a different importance," Edwards said.
That is why they will have a civil ceremony next month, after they obtain a marriage license on Tuesday, after Edwards performed at least five weddings.
So even though when they met more than two decades ago, they never dreamed this day would come, it was like Lisa's 80-something-year-old mother said to her older sister at her chuppah: "If you live long enough, you see everything."