Same-Sex Marriage and Honest Communication

John C. Rankin

(old blog, January 12, 2009)

On November 22, 2002, I addressed a Mars Hill Forum at Boston University with Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. Our topic was “Is Same-Sex Marriage Good for the Nation?” Arline is the most effective homosexual-rights lobbyist in the state, and has been so since the late 1980s.

I arrived in the auditorium before Arline did, and when she came in, I immediately introduced myself, smiled, shook her hand and said, eye to eye, that it was a pleasure to meet her. She had a coterie of lesbian and male homosexual friends with her, and when they saw how easily and genuinely I greeted Arline, some of them were clearly shocked – even lurching back a little. In other words, the stereotype of an evangelical minister is that I must be “homophobic,” that is, fearful of being in the presence of homosexual persons, and clearly hateful toward them.

During Arline’s introductory comments, she stated that every other person she debated on this subject “had palpably hated me, but not so tonight with John Rankin.” I was unprepared for this remark, and whether Arline had concluded this beforehand, or whether my eyeball-to-eyeball welcome made the difference, I do not know.

That evening I made a concerted presentation for the goodness of man and woman in marriage, “one man, one woman, one lifetime,” chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within. On such a basis I said an unambiguous no to same-sex marriage. During her opening comments, Arline spoke of her lesbian partner of many years, and how they had two artificially inseminated children. These were Arline’s biological children, conceived through anonymous sperm donors.

Then during our dialogic period, I said that I was going to ask her a personal question, which she did not have to answer if she considered it too probing. I asked her what she would say to her children when they were old enough to ask, “Who is my daddy?” and “Where is my daddy?” Arline said she had not thought of that question and would have to cross that bridge when she came to it. I left it there, open-ended.

During the question and answer period, in the midst of an energetic moment with a questioner from the audience, Arline looked at me and said, “We know that you love us John.” She had a good number of friends there, and most of the 225 or so people were on her side of the question. Yet I had never used the explicit language of “love.” Rather I had shown Arline full respect as an image-bearer of God in the face of a most divisive debate.

On March 20, 2004, we addressed the same question at Harvard. Here I was explicit in my critique of the trajectory of the 2003 Goodridge ruling of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court legalizing same-sex marriage. It lifted same-sex marriage to the threshold of “fundamental” and “basic rights,” even parallel to those of unalienable rights. This will ultimately trump religious liberty and destroy civil liberties for all people, as it sets a human definition of rights above those of the Creator. This argument remains untouched historically and legally speaking, and as the argument by same-sex marriage advocates most often is emotional in nature. The 2008 re: Marriage Cases ruling of the California Supreme Court (since overturned by Proposition 8 as the legal jockeying continues), and the 2008 Kerrigan ruling of the Connecticut Supreme Court, only ratchet up this trajectory.

During the question and answer period, Arline pointedly challenged me, “John – why are you trying to harm me and my family” by opposing same-sex marriage? I was incredulous, given our honest rapport prior to this point (and afterward as well). So I said something like, “That is remarkable. You and your partner have been together long before same-sex marriage was a legal possibility, and you had your artificially inseminated children years before it was a possibility. The ones doing the harm are the male chauvinists who sold their sperm for fifty bucks and don’t give a damn.”

Now this is virtually the most confrontational thing I have ever said in a Mars Hill Forum (other than with the reprehensible Fred Phelps of Yet, as I did, Arline and the audience raised no objection, and we moved on. In other words, when we truly love those who might otherwise consider themselves our enemies, we are greatly empowered to speak the truth – even when it is uncomfortable.

In our third forum together on October 25, 2008, addressing the same subject, I again reiterated and strengthened my opposition to same-sex marriage. We had further and new avenues of dialogue. After the event, as she was about to leave, Arline gave me a hug. I received it well, realizing then that I was on the verge myself of initiating a hug. A lead lesbian activist and same-sex marriage advocate warmly embracing a convinced opponent of same-sex marriage? Yes, the truth can be spoken in love when we who dare to call ourselves Christian regard no human person as our enemy, but rather seek to love as we have been loved by God through Jesus. Do I know the depths of Arline’s soul in this regard, and why she has responded so warmly? No, and any guess I might make would be just that. But the seeds of God’s love have been sown.