Who Would Moses Marry? (Parashat Bo)

The author believes that Moses would be one of the LGBT community’s best allies if he were alive today. The author argues that this portion teaches that fighting for freedom is not easy and that it has to be fought for at all times, no matter the assurance we’re led to believe we have, includes fights for gay marriage.

May 9, 2019

By Amy Soule

Parashat Bo

Who Would Moses Marry?

by Amy Soule on Friday January 30, 2009

5 Shevat 5769

Exodus 10:1 – 13:16


So Moses and Aaron returned to Pharaoh. He said to them, “Go on! Worship your God! Who are the ones to go?” Moses replied “We will all go, young and old: we will go with our sons and daughters, our flocks and our herds, since we must observe God’s festival.” Pharaoh said to them, “Clearly you are bent on mischief. No, you men go and worship God if that is what you want.” (Exodus 10:8-11)

Looking at Moses’ discussion with Pharaoh, it’s hard for me, as a gay woman, to resist the temptation to alter a few words, making it very relevant to our lives as GLBT Jews. I suspect that, if this discussion occurred today Moses’ words might be “We will all marry, our gay and our straight people.”

Furthermore, looking at his actual discussion with Pharaoh seems to indicate he would be one of our best allies if he lived with us today. Despite his position at the top of the social hierarchy- due to his sex and sexual orientation-he fights for the rights and freedom of his entire community and stands in total solidarity with them, refusing to accept anything short of full equality (Exodus 10:9) rather than basking in his straight male privilege, as he could have been tempted to do instead.

He’s not fooled by Pharaoh’s attempt to compromise with him, saying only the men can worship God because anything more indicates a mischievous motive (Exodus 10:10). If we extrapolate this to our times, we can assume Moses wouldn’t be fooled by the religious right propaganda which claims letting us affirm our love will ruin traditional definitions of marriage, families, etc. if he lived among us today.

He could also see through the attempt of some governments’ “compromise” of allowing civil unions or domestic partnerships to acknowledge our relationships, since they, like the compromise Pharaoh actually suggested millennia ago (Exodus 10:11), don’t give all of humankind total freedom and equal rights.

Later, after God intervenes on behalf of our ancestors, freedom is supposedly assured, although due to a change of heart that may or may not be viewed as sudden depending on your interpretation, Pharaoh decides to revoke his decision (Exodus 10:20).

Looking at these lines reminds me of some incidents that prove fighting for freedom is not easy and that it has to be fought for at all times, no matter the assurance we’re led to believe we have.

Gay marriage was legalized throughout Canada on July 20, 2005. I remember feeling high and euphoric when I received notification from Egale Canada informing me that the Civil Marriage Act had passed, giving me and my peers permission to marry if, God willing, anyone special entered our lives. I’m not sure there has been a day since then, or if there was a day earlier, that I ever felt as proud to be Canadian. Sending emails to all of the Members of Parliament dominated most of my summer holiday, but like our ancestors who had to “come out” as Jews through making sacrifices and marking their doors with blood to protect their homes from the Angel of Death and ensure their freedom (Exodus 12:22-23), I was very aware that actions taken by our allies (like Moses and our modern-day straight peers) and their solidarity weren’t necessarily enough to ensure success and total equity. Their actions lay a solid foundation, but we also have to be proactive, making steps toward fighting for, and claiming, our freedom.

However, even if most MPs had voted to give all Canadians the freedom, benefits and dignity that come with being able to marry, the government was run by a man who seemed very reminiscent of Pharaoh. His name was Steven Harper. Like Pharaoh, he attempted to be “diplomatic”, assuring “the public”, or maybe simply the religious right, that a free vote would be held on the issue if he was re-elected as an attempt to compromise with everyone, although I suspect he would have killed to rescind the legislation completely, due to his Conservative beliefs.

He was re-elected and his free vote was held during December of 2005. Equality prevailed, baruch hashem, although once again strong action was necessary and holding out for that verdict was nothing short of excruciating.

My peers in California, unfortunately, weren’t as lucky. Last May, an event that seemed like divine intervention occurred in that state. The state Supreme Court affirmed the sanctity of all relationships, enabling everyone, GLBT or straight, to marry. However, such victory proved to be short-lived and now illusory. Six months later, Proposition 8 was added to the Californian election ballot, enabling the public to have their voice heard regarding gay marriage.

Due to the result of the vote, 52 percent in favour and 48 against, the constitution was rewritten, making gay marriage illegal and leaving 18,000 relationships in limbo. According to some groups, these marriages should be completely annulled since gay marriage is now illegal, although they were legitimate six months ago. It’s not enough for the religious right to be happy no more gay marriages are possible; they want to undo any that exist right now, too.

On January 20th, Barack Obama became America’s 44th president. Happy as I was to witness this historic event and celebrate (even though I’m not American), it was hard for me to avoid realizing his victory was bittersweet. His election came with victory for the religious right in many states, since Arkansas, Florida and California all passed legislation to prevent or retract recognition of our relationships and/or render us ineligible to adopt children. Droves of our people came out to vote for Obama believing his election could mean total equity, although according to interviews he doesn’t regard us as complete equals. He is supportive of civil

unions-and that’s a step compared to the strict fundamentalist leanings professed by Bush- but it’s nothing like we believed we were getting.

All love is holy. Moses, if we extrapolate anything out of his message in this week’s parasha, realized this millennia ago and defended equality and human rights rather than enjoying his privileged position in society. He refused to accept anything short of total freedom and we have to do the same.

If Moses can come to Pharaoh and fight for the freedom of all Jews despite his struggles to communicate, and perhaps risking his social standing, surely we can face the Pharaohs of our times through coming out and doing everything we can to prove that all people deserve the freedom to affirm their relationships and marry anyone they love, no matter their gender or sex.

Protests such as Dec. 10 being designated as a day for people to “Call in Gay” to their employers helped bring attention to the issues in California a month ago and perhaps, if a miracle happens, the Supreme Court will figure out some way to overrule Prop. 8, let alone make marriage an accessible right for all American people. It may be slow, but Pharaohs can change their attitude, even if an act of God (and some help from the rest of humankind) if necessary for it to occur.