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A Painful Silence on Same-Sex Marriage

by John C. Rankin
February 2002


When the debate concerning same-sex marriage is embraced, there is a painful silence at certain key junctures. Or to put it another way, the issue is advanced politically by certain advocates, who then do not want a full, intelligent, gracious and honest dialogue. On February 11, before the Judiciary Committee at the State Capitol in Hartford, Connecticut, I led off a panel that opposed two bills then being considered to advance same-sex marriage or facsimile. These bills have been conceived in the direct shadow of the "civil union" legislation already enacted in Vermont.

As part of my testimony I told a story concerning my postgraduate studies at Harvard Divinity School. 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 then continued, with an unsolicited and previously untouched subject. She said 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 a live-in boyfriend to mom, a stepfather or some other adult male who had access to the household. I remember praying in my spirit at that exact moment, "Dear God above, has the church heard this testimony, or do we merely condemn?" 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 loved and respected each other as complements and equals, and accordingly, loved 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 a loving daddy at home?

Only a small portion of avowed homosexuals favor same-sex marriage. Yet for those who do, I believe they are often seeking some sort of family structure in which they are safe from abuse, an ersatz replacement for the family they lost, or 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 their healthiest development. It is not right to change our laws to suit the real pain of adults who suffered such a deprivation as children. The proper course is to strengthen true marriage. The research is clear: Children without a married mother and father at home fare more poorly than children from intact families. And it is hard enough to address the many needs here, especially when single parent households are so often a result of male irresponsibility and/or promiscuous lifestyles.

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 is the goal at which society should aim. To lower our sights and legally codify same-sex relationships is to redefine marriage downward in a cycle of multiplying pain across the generations.

I gave my testimony in a packed hearing room, and there were two overflow rooms utilized as well. Most of the main hearing room was filled with same-sex "marriage" advocates (they had their identifying stickers), and most of these advocates were women. I faced the Judiciary Committee, seated at a desk, with the audience behind me. When I mentioned the testimony of the three Harvard lesbians, there was an audible gasp across the whole room. Friends of mine in the audience later told me that the gasp was visibly registered on the faces of these women advocates, women who then literally held their breath until I moved on to the next portion of my remarks.

What does this say? It points out to me the deep pain that so many homosexuals deal with, and I had dared to touch that pain. The lesbians in the hearing room were caught off guard with such an accurate diagnosis, and fearful of its further exploration. And why do I risk the touching of such pain? Because this is the nature of love, of loving God and loving my neighbor as myself. Biblical ethics celebrate unalienable rights for all people -- life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. Biblical ethics celebrate the image of God in all people -- the universal pursuit of peace, order, stability and hope; to live, to love, to laugh and to learn. But these ethics also root the fulfillment of the image of God in the nature of marriage as one man and one woman in mutual fidelity, from the order of creation -- given by the same Creator in whom unalienable rights are uniquely located. Thus, to touch such pain, is to identify reality and to encourage true healing.

None of the media, which gave extensive coverage to this hearing, quoted this portion of my testimony. So I composed an op-ed piece for the Hartford Courant. They accepted it, even offered to pay me for it, but at the last moment pulled it. Well, that is their prerogative -- they can publish what they please. The real issue is much deeper: Why the silence on this matter? What is the depth of the painful gasps unearthed by the public recognition of such abuse? I have addressed forums on controversial subjects on many university campuses. Yet homosexual advocates are the least likely to embrace any sort of public dialogue.

For those of us who affirm the positive social good of man and woman in marriage, and thus say no to homosexuality, how do we conduct ourselves in the face of such a debate? We must genuinely desire not one inch of greater liberty to speak what we believe than we first commend to those who disagree with us. This is the Golden Rule in political context. And if we are met with a wall of silence, what does that tell us? In 18 years of public policy ministry, I have directly communicated with very many avowed homosexuals. Many of them struggle with and would like to overcome such a propensity, and for those homosexuals who are not public about it, I believe the ratio is higher yet. When silence by homosexual advocates is the response, we know that the soul has been deeply touched, and it shows the rest of society, and especially closeted homosexuals, that the pain is at least reasonably understood. And from there, a shared humanity can be better embraced in pursuit of the common good.

John C. Rankin is president of the Theological Education Institute, 750 Main Street, Suite 1300, Hartford, CT 06103 860/246-0099 www.teinetwork.com

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