Not Wanting to Hear: The Connecticut State Legislature and Hartford Courant
John C. Rankin
[excerpted and updated from First the Gospel, Then Politics …, 1999-2004, Vol. 2, not published]
In the 2001 legislative year, a group known as “Love Makes A Family” initiated a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage in Connecticut, and its cause was championed by the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Michael Lawlor.
I was not paying close attention to state politics at the time. The homosexual lobby had worked behind the scenes to have a hearing on the matter where there would be no opposing view heard. This ruse was discovered nine days prior by the Catholic Conference lobbyist Dr. Marie Hilliard, and she succeeded in getting an equal opportunity for those of us who oppose same-sex marriage. I was thus part of an ecumenical and interfaith panel that Dr. Hilliard put together on such short notice.
The homosexual partisans had prepared long for this, and staged a rally beforehand in the State Capitol, with about 100 Connecticut people, and about 100 partisans that came from out of state. They all wore bright yellow stickers with the word “equality” on it. The media was fawning, and in their press conference the homosexual partisans warned the media that their opponents would be Bible quoting religionists opposed to basic civil rights, employing some clergy of their own in the process.
In the hearing, the main room was packed, and thus an overflow room with close circuit television was utilized. The homosexual partisans were seated first, and on short notice we had about as many people, but most of whom were in the overflow room. Preference was given to certain legislators first, all of whom were pro-homosexual. Then the homosexual panel testified, including two out of state experts, one from England, and Attorney Beth Robinson from Vermont. She is the one who initiated the lawsuit against Vermont that led to the civil unions statute being enacted.
Part of their panel included the Rev. Dr. Davida Foy Crabtree, conference minister for the United Church of Christ (UCC) in Connecticut. This is an executive position, thus making Rev. Crabtree the denomination’s lead spokesperson in the state. As she testified, she said that she was speaking only for herself, but also portrayed the UCC in Connecticut in the most sympathetic light toward homosexuality possible.
In her testimony, she lifted up a leather-bound copy of the Bible before the Judiciary Committee (40 members), and declared that in the Gospels, “Jesus does not say one word about homosexuality.” Then she said there was the need to repeat this point, so she did emphatically. Afterward, she made the syllogistic leap, in an argument from supposed silence, that accordingly, Jesus would not oppose same-sex marriage.
I can imagine if a member of our panel had quoted the Levitical prohibition of homosexuality, likewise lifting up a copy of the Bible before the Judiciary Committee. I can imagine certain biased media thus reporting something like, “Bible Thumper Assaults Legislators,” with a picture of Bible lifted in the face of the Judiciary Committee.
The bottom line is that this is a theological debate before it is a political one. The strategy was to neutralize any biblical truth that might be presented. And indeed, some on our panel were fearful of being cast in a negative light, and thus muted what they might have otherwise said.
Our panel was given one hour, and of the nine of us who testified, we were asked to keep our formal remarks to three minutes, so as to make as much time as possible for Q & A afterward with the Committee. I argued that 1) civil rights are rooted in unalienable rights which come from God; 2) these unalienable rights are only found in the God of the Bible; 3) the God of the Bible defines marriage as one man and one woman in mutual fidelity; and 4) no society rooted in the approval of homosexuality has ever had a concept of unalienable rights. Thus, the advocates of same-sex marriage need to answer four questions: 1) Are civil rights being redefined?; 2) If so, why?; 3) If so, what is the new basis for these rights?; and 4) What are the consequences? In a written addendum, I included my proposed resolution for Human Sexuality and Civil Rights.
In the cross-examination of our panel, where there were many pointed questions trying to undermine us, not one legislator touched my concern about the source and definition of unalienable rights. But one legislator did ask how we would response to Rev. Crabtree’s assertion about Jesus not addressing the matter of homosexuality.
I gave a succinct answer. I said 1) the biblical order of creation assumes one man and one woman in marriage, that Jesus explicitly affirmed this assumption when he opposed divorce; and 2) that Jesus, in his own words, said he came to fulfill the Law of Moses, and that the Law of Moses explicitly says no to homosexuality.
Had I taken more time I could also have noted that Jesus opposes homosexual prostitution in the last chapter of Revelation, or in the Matthew 15 reference to “sexual immorality” (porneia in the Greek includes heterosexual and homosexual promiscuity), or I could have challenged the notion of an argument from silence. For example, Jesus said nothing in the Gospels about sorcery, sacred prostitution or child sacrifice – the three principle sins for which Israel and Judah lost their land, Jerusalem and the temple, in 721 then 586 B.C. He said nothing, because those matters were not at hand in 30 A.D. in a Roman occupied land. Nor was homosexuality a matter at hand in terms of Jewish life. And as I have argued in this trilogy, it is the positive basis of the order of creation that interprets all.
When I gave my answer, I saw visible relief on the faces of perhaps 12-15 legislators. There it struck me deeply how this is a theological issue far more than a political one. The homosexual partisans must first discredit the Bible and the church before they can succeed politically. They could not discredit my handling of the Bible, because I was not a “Bible-thumper” and I was arguing even-handedly for true civil rights for all people. When I saw the relief on the faces of the legislators, it reminded me that many of them, while perhaps not attending to the religion of their upbringing, still respect the opinion of Jesus.
We won this political contest in 2001, overwhelmingly among the Judiciary Committee members. So it never reached the floor of the House or Senate. The word from behind the scenes was that our hastily prepared panel gave a much better presentation than did the homosexual partisans.
But we knew that the homosexual lobby would be back in 2002. So between July 2001 and January 2002, I contacted all 187 State Legislators up to ten times in some cases, by letter, email and in person. I heard back from 49 of them, mostly on our side.
In this strategy I was seeking a) to encourage those who supported the historic marriage covenant, and b) to invite those who disagreed with me into dialogue. If such public policy disputants had substance to their position, I wanted to see it. If they could not overcome my position, I wanted them to know that I knew they knew it. This leads to tremendous moral as well as intellectual and spiritual authority when engaging in the political forum – namely, those who disagree with me know a) I have communicated with them ahead of time, with graciousness and intelligence, and b) if they do not answer my questions, they cannot criticize my position with any self-confidence.
The several openly homosexual members of the Legislature did not give any response. Most respondents were in favor of my position, some uncommitted and some opposed. Among those opposed, one State Senator sought to dismiss it as a matter of different interpretations of the Bible, but eschewed any discussion, and did not touch the real concern of the source for unalienable rights. Another State Senator was blunt – he was displeased to learn that someone was opposing same-sex marriage, but he too refused to engage the real debate. A third State Senator, the Majority Leader, sought to liken me to the Taliban, and refused any further interaction.
Fourth, one State Representative wrote a lengthy letter explaining why he supported same-sex marriage, and why I was wrong about unalienable rights. He said that the Bible was unfamiliar with such language, and that my argument “seems a gross misrepresentation of intellectual history, and a great slight to the French philosophers of the eighteenth century.” But he concluded this way:
“As a final note, let me applaud you for your willingness to approach this issue within the parameters of a reasoned, substantive discourse.Too often, people on opposite sides of this issue begin and end by talking past each other. Resolution of this issue is a long way off, but we are better served by a debate such as this.”
I answered and thanked him for his email, then explained my position in direct reference to his many points of objections. He did not further challenge me. I invited him to join me for lunch sometime.
Fifth, I also entered into many emails with State Representative Michael Lawlor, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and the prime mover for same-sex marriage in the Connecticut General Assembly. In a nutshell, he said it was not a matter of “rights,” and thus avoided my whole argument. Yet, the whole political movement of which he is a part overwhelmingly uses the language of rights, and he is well known for his relentless side-steps while he relentlessly pursues his goal.
Following my email campaign, and where I also met with a number of legislators supportive or open to my concerns, the two bills promoting same-sex marriage were brought before the Judiciary Committee on February 11, 2002. Just like the prior year, the homosexual partisans were well organized, and had a press conference ahead of time, this year emphasizing a statewide group of clergy who support same-sex marriage. An exact confirmation of my diagnosis – they need first to dispense with the Bible, then address the politics. But Dr. Crabtree was not present this year.
At the February 11 hearing, the pro-family coalition was much better organized, and we had up to 500 people there, which necessitated two overflow rooms. The homosexual partisans had over 100 supporters, but they were there well ahead of the hearing for their press conference, so they equaled the majority of those in the main hearing room. The hearing began at 11:00 a.m., but Chairman Lawlor had it so structured that for the first three hours or so, all that was heard was pro-homosexual marriage sentiments. Then I led our panel off, but we were not an official “panel” this year, so they would hit a buzzer whenever we would go over three minutes – which many people did. As I led off, there was noise in the background so that the Chairman had people quiet down, and had me start over. But my time kept running, so I was limited even more so. How petty. My testimony hit the subject from a different primary angle than I did the prior, and here is the main body of my prepared remarks:
Once, in my studies at Harvard, I was approached by three women from my class in feminist ethics. They told me they were lesbian, and that every lesbian they knew had been abused by some man, usually the live-in boyfriend to mom or a step-father, in her pre-adolescent years. This is not a statistical claim, but an honest anecdote, the substance of which is known to many male and female homosexuals alike.
I believe the desire for same-sex “marriage” is so often rooted in the partial or total loss of a childhood where a married father and mother love and respect each other as complements and equals, and accordingly, love their children. The answer to such loss or abuse is not to redefine marriage downward, but to strengthen marriage to its best possibilities. What child does not naturally want a loving mommy and loving daddy at home?
Once, in a forum in Monterey, California, a lesbian activist posed me some angry questions. In response, I said that if ever her life were in danger, and I were in position, I would risk my own life to protect hers, unhesitatingly. Why? Because she is still an image-bearer of God, whose rights to life, liberty and property are the same as mine. This is what it means to love the Lord my God, and to love my neighbor as myself.
Now, in terms of politics, the economic concerns expressed by same-sex advocates are located, or locatable, in the liberty of mutual contract, with no need to redefine marriage downward. And, I have already presented to the entire General Assembly, in personal communications, a tight historical argument that unalienable rights are given by the Creator, who defines marriage as between one man and one woman in mutual fidelity, and no society that has ever affirmed homosexuality has also affirmed unalienable rights. None of you have presented any contrary data.
Thus, the affirmation of same-sex “marriage,” “civil unions” or facsimile, is in direct opposition to the source for unalienable rights. To redefine marriage downward requires a new definition of civil rights that would ultimately not allow the religious, political or economic liberty of dissenters.
Finally, in last year’s hearing, one religious leader claimed, in an argument from silence, that Jesus approves of homosexual “marriage.” I answered her, stating this is untrue. Moses affirmed marriage between a man and a woman, and said no to homosexuality. And Jesus, in his own words, came to fulfill the law of Moses.
For those legislators who regard the law of Moses and/or the person of Jesus to be respected, they cannot at the same time affirm homosexuality in any capacity.
I sat facing the Judiciary Committee, with the audience behind me. As soon as I mentioned the word “Harvard,” there was a gasp across the audience. It is as though someone opposing same-sex marriage could not possibly have such a pedigree.
Then as I mentioned the childhood abuses testified to by the Harvard lesbians, there was a deeper and more widespread gasp, groans too, yet. The same-sex marriage supporters were self-identified with their bright yellow “equality” stickers. (It made me want to have stickers in the future that say “equality and complementarity” which could occasion some good conversation). The large majority of these were women.
Several of my friends in attendance told me what they witnessed. The gasps and groans were by these women, and they literally held their breaths until I was done with that portion. Something very deep was touched, and they were not prepared for it. It is a pain that the Holy Spirit needs to touch before healing is possible. But the callouses in the souls of the lesbians in that room reared back. Several decades ago, homosexuals would often speak of their love as “a love that dares not speak its name” due to social opprobrium. Well, that opprobrium is far less now, and what I dared to do was to “speak a pain that dares not speak its name.” This is the deeper reality, and one which caught them by surprise. God grant us wisdom to speak the truth in love, and see the pain healed in the name of Jesus.
In the cross-examination period, and afterward, no one on the Committee touched this issue of child abuse, nor did any of them challenge the matter of unalienable rights, nor did any of them raise an objection to my theological diagnosis (with at least two clergymen having testified in favor of same-sex marriage beforehand). None of the large media contingent reported on any of these facts as well (I was later interviewed by ABC News in New York City, but my segment was not aired). In other words, silence.
With this in view, I submitted an editorial to the Hartford Courant. They have a column called “As I See It.” It ran on Saturdays, and is a forum for personal perspectives. The prior year the Courant ran a column by a lesbian who spoke of how God approves of her lesbian union and in vitro child. I submitted a response, and the Courant said they did not publish responses to such columns. I later submitted another article on a different matter, and they said it was too theological (I mentioned God and unalienable rights). But I thought I would try again. This time, they accepted it, and even sent me a contract to sign. But then they pulled it a day ahead of publication, with no basis.
Here is the article:
Same-Sex Marriage Perpetuates Cycle of Brokenness
John C. Rankin
On February 11, before the Judiciary Committee of the State Capitol, I told a story as part of my testimony concerning same-sex marriage.
While a post-graduate student in theology at Harvard, I was taking a class in feminist ethics. During lunch one day, three women from my class sat down with me. One said, “You know, John, for an evangelical, you’re a nice guy.”
She continued, saying that she and her two friends were lesbian, and that every lesbian they knew had been physically, sexually and /or emotionally abused by some man in her youth, usually by a live-in boyfriend to mom, a stepfather or some other adult male. Occasionally it was the biological father himself, which to me is twice the evil. But how can an incomprehensible evil be doubled? Only when the evil kills you and you are still alive, and then you are killed again, only to go on living with a double betrayal of trust.
These words profoundly affected me. My only experience with the issue of homosexuality prior to this was in college in 1973, when two homosexuals spoke at a public forum about the matter. Now the statement of these lesbians at Harvard is not a statistical claim for all lesbians. But they lived in an academic and social milieu in which they knew very many lesbians from around the country. Thus, it was an honest anecdote, the substance of which is known to many male and female homosexuals alike.
I believe the desire for same-sex marriage is often rooted in the partial or total loss of a childhood in which a married father and mother love and respect each other as complements and equals and, accordingly, love their children. The answer to such loss or abuse is not to redefine marriage downward, but to strengthen marriage to its best possibilities, to a mutual fidelity between a man and a woman that lasts a lifetime. What child does not naturally want a loving mommy and loving daddy at home?
I believe, too, that those who seek same-sex marriage are often seeking some sort of family structure in which they are safe from abuse, an ersatz replacement for the family they never had, in part or in whole. And I can only respect the desire for such safety. Nonetheless, we are male and female, and all children need a father and a mother to ensure the healthiest development. It is not right to change our laws to suit the real pain of adults who suffered such deprivation as children. The proper course is to strengthen true marriage.
The research is clear: Children of divorce tend to fare more poorly than children from intact families. What this means is that same-sex marriage, and the raising of children in such households, only perpetuates a cycle of brokenness. Thus, for the sake of all people, marriage between a man and a woman in mutual fidelity, trust and respect, is the goal at which society should aim. To lower our sights and legally codify same-sex relationships is to define marriage downward in a cycle of multiplying pain across the generations.
The Courant did not want to publish this opinion, and that was their prerogative. They had no interest in a competent balance to their pro-homosexual bias.
Later on, after a 2002 forum at Wesleyan University, I thought that it provided good fodder for a column. So I decided to give the Hartford Courant another chance. I submitted a column to them, and they said yes. Then I was taken through an extraordinary period of petty issues, and finally they rejected it again. The final straw was when they wanted me to include Bible quotes that I did not use to begin with (and this, after they complained as certain junctures that I was too theological). They did not give me the liberty to be biblically ethical in making a sound argument. They needed some way to make me look like a “Bible thumper.”
It was almost comical. The Courant did not recognize my paraphrase of Jesus in the greatest commandment, yet when I said marriage between one man and one woman for one lifetime was God’s intent, they wanted chapter and verse cited and published. I was happy with understatement, but they wanted an overstatement that would jar with their sense of a “secular” newspaper, thus making me into a desired caricature. And my section on the God of the Bible is one they insisted I add to my original submission, desiring me to be more explicit as to why I opposed same-sex marriage (whereas I wrote it not to focus on that, but on the ethics of public policy debate, with same-sex marriage as an example).
After they gave the rejection, I said that they rejected it for two reasons; first they do not support its call for a level playing field, and second, they will allow no gracious and intelligent opposition to homosexuality in their newspaper. They did not respond – self-imposed silence once again. Here is the article as it might have been printed, as a personal perspective column:
Same-Sex Marriage and Honest Debate
John C. Rankin
Is it possible to have civil dialogue over contentious issues – for example, same-sex marriage?
I host a series on college campuses called the Mars Hill Forums. In these forums, I invite the most competent skeptics of my biblical worldview and its public policy implications. The goal is to have intelligent and gracious dialogue on subjects in which we disagree.
These forums are rooted in my love of hard questions. I believe it is good to be skeptical in the pursuit of truth.
On April 18, I addressed such a forum at Wesleyan University on the question, “Is same-sex marriage good for the nation?” My guest was Norm Allen of the Council for Secular Humanism, an avid advocate of same-sex marriage as public policy. I argued that same-sex marriage defines true marriage downward and undercuts a healthy society.
When I arrived on campus, I was greeted with chalkings on the sidewalks that advocated violent sexual aggression against my person in the lewdest of language. At the forum, several students said that my mere presence was “threatening” and “offensive” to them. I asked them why, and one student indicated that this forum was being held during “Queer Awareness Days” and was thus offensive. So I asked him: Is it offensive to hear both sides of an issue?
I then observed how remarkable it was that I was greeted with violent and lewd language against my person, and yet I was the one charged with being threatening. I said that I did not want anything more than a level playing field for all ideas, not one inch of greater liberty to say what I believe than I first commend to those who disagree with me.
I then asked, “How, in the face of honest debate in the public sphere, should we conduct ourselves?”
I believe the best way is to embrace the idea of a level playing field in which both sides are equally heard. Then, as a partisan, I field the toughest questions from those who disagree with me. In so doing, I seek to live by the height of biblical ethics – to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself; ergo, to treat other as I wish to be treated.
It is false to seek to change the opinions of others by force, manipulation or censorship. Honest change, in either direction, can only come through open and informed choice.
The matter of same-sex marriage is crucial when it comes to defining the social order. We are a nation founded on the concept of unalienable rights. All of us hold the rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness, as given by the Creator. The Creator is the God of the Bible, who defines marriage as one man, one woman, one lifetime. If same-sex marriage were to become law, it would have to be on a different foundation – for in history there has never been a society rooted in unalienable rights that has simultaneously affirmed homosexuality in any capacity.
So, in the face of this and other public policy debates, there are two ethics I live by. First is “the love of hard questions” where I am eager to be openly accountable to the most competent and passionate questions from those who hold different opinions. Second is a “level playing field” where I do not desire one inch greater liberty to speak my view, than the liberty I first commend to those who disagree with me.