[About the Participants] [Opening
Statement by Arline Isaacson] [Opening
Statement by John Rankin][Dialog]
[Questions from the Audience] [Closing
[Return to Mars Hill Forum]
Is Same-Sex Marriage Good for the Nation?
Arline: Well, John, you kind of knocked the wind out of me there in the end. I’m not quite sure where to begin. I appreciate your assertion, and I do in fact believe you when you say that you love us. I mean that genuinely and I do appreciate it. But I think that at some point you might want to look at what it means to love someone and then to do so much harm to them as the kinds of harms that I articulated earlier.
So let me go first to that and ask you. You say you don’t want us to have marriage, but I noticed in your interesting reasoning of why marriage should remain straight, you didn’t actually get to the question that I think is the crux of the problem, which is, why would you want us to be denied the benefits, rights and responsibilities, the kinds that I described earlier?
John: Well that’s a good question, and I did give an indication when I said that I was a pro-life libertarian in my politics. As I read that resolution, that resolution acknowledges the source of rights, and it acknowledges within that source of rights the freedom for dissent. And so I have no objection to any contracts between homosexual people for all of these things. But I also made the argument that marriage itself is not a right. And if you view marriage as a gateway to rights, then you’re not looking at a pre-legal definition of marriage. Or should I say, you’re looking at a source different from the God of the Bible, which is the only source for unalienable rights. Therefore, again in my libertarian ethos, if you want to pursue that in some capacity, you want to have religious people marry you and so forth and so one, I have no problem with that whatsoever. I have attorney friends who are very familiar with some of the legal issues you’ve raised down in Connecticut. The argument you would give to me is, well, but that’s more work, and if we had the right to marriage it would be simple as you straight, married people have. And I agree with you on that one. But I also make the deeper argument that the source for unalienable rights is undercut by same-sex marriage. That will not only hurt heterosexuals, it will hurt homosexuals as well. Because I will argue from history, as I said earlier, every society in all of human history that has affirmed homosexuality has never had a concept of unalienable rights for dissenters within their midst. I have articulated a right for dissenters within my midst.
Arline: I appreciate your concern about homosexuals, but I think we’ll take care of ourselves, thank you.
John: In the sense of?
Arline: Well, you were saying it would be bad for homosexuals as well, and I think that probably we are the best judges of what would be good or bad for us in the context of our lives and the country in which we are living. You said. You said that we can draft contracts and you have no problem with us, and that’s nice of you. But I have to tell you a few things. Factually, we can’t do it. There is no contract that I can draft that will force the city of Boston to grant health insurance benefits for the domestic partner of a firefighter. No contract. There is no contract I can craft that will allow me to access the social security benefits of my partner. There is no contract I can draft for Medicare, for disability, for unemployment benefits, on and on and on. There are some select few contracts we can draft. But for the fourteen-hundred rights and benefits that we don’t have when we don’t have marriage, we simply can’t access most of those through contracts.
Number two, when you insist that marriage is, how did you say it? It’s not a right. I have to tell you, I sit here and I think, well, I could answer him by saying yes it is, and he’ll say no, and I’ll say yes. And then I pull back and I say, who cares? If it’s a right, if you want to call it a right, you want to call it inalienable, you want to say it’s a law. I don’t care what you call it. I just want the rights. So if you want to seek haven in the reason we should be denied these benefits by saying they don’t fit into some structure or framework, an intellectual academic structure or framework you have created, which you believe in, but many constitutional scholars and biblical scholars don’t. I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m saying it’s your opinion, and there are many who don’t share it. The question is, should your particular framework guide all these rights and benefits. You know, if you don’t want to say it’s inalienable, if you don’t want to say it’s civil, if you don’t want -- it doesn’t really matter whatever the framework is. We live on terra firma. We live on whether or not I have health insurance, whether or not I get social security, whether or not my children are protected. And that’s all we’re looking for. And so again you have to answer the question, would you be denying us these rights under the construct you’re creating?
John: Now what’s interesting is the way that you’ve phrased this. Same-sex marriage has never been advanced in all of human history until the recent decades. And so all of a sudden, as you challenge the status quo in terms of legal precedent, you’re saying that we by holding that are denying. No, I’m not denying that. What I’m doing is I’m resisting an attempt to deny the basis for unalienable rights. So you can phrase it that I have a negative agenda, but I do not. I’ve made my positive agenda. On the basis of the positive I’m protecting the positive for society. I do not agree and I dissent from your attempt to change the laws and advance a novel concept of same-sex marriage. Now you mentioned…
Arline: But why? Tell me again why? You’ve told me why straights should marry, but tell me why is it bad that we get the rights?
John: Well first of all you just said you didn’t care if they were called rights, but then you wanted the rights.
Arline: I want them. I don’t care what they’re called. That’s right.
John: OK, you want them. If that’s the case, what you’re doing is you’re getting rid of definition. You said I’m being academic and I have my construct, I’m not dealing with terra firma. I am dealing with terra firma. When you go back to the history of the immigration in this country and the hundred and fifty years that preceded the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and the rights that were being denied by King George III, breaking covenant after covenant after covenant. And therefore, these men assembled and said what right do we have to overthrow the king. They went to one source, unalienable rights from the Creator. The reason that you and I have the freedom to debate this issue without the fear of police arresting either of us is uniquely, terra firma, only related in the unalienable rights of the Declaration that give the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, that your right to life, liberty and property may not be deprived of you or of me apart from due process of law. That’s exceedingly terra firma. So what happens is, you then need to answer my question which I posed earlier, which is to say, if you redefine marriage, are you not redefining the very source of unalienable rights? Which means…
John: OK, then what you need to do is you need to show me that there’s a different source for unalienable rights other than the God of the Bible. Concretely. Terra firma.
Arline: I’m not a constitutional scholar and won’t pretend to be one. I’m not an expert on the founding framework.
John: The head of the ACLU couldn’t answer that question from me [inaudible].
Arline: OK, then I definitely won’t be able to.
John: Well just a second. That’s why I’m saying terra firma. When she called me on the telephone to confirm my quote of her in volume 1 of my trilogy, she said well John, you know I disagree with you on this matter. I said yes, Nadine, I know that well. Actually I think I said really, but she knew that I knew that she knew that we disagreed. And so she said, but John, surely there must be some other religious source in human history that defines unalienable rights. And I said, name it. And she was quiet for a moment. And she said, John, you are so precise in your definition of terms, aren’t you. I said, amen sister. Definitions of terms are crucial, what is good, what is evil, what is right. And so what I’m saying is this. That same-sex marriage directly assaults the definition of unalienable rights. And if you wish to do that, then you need to replace it with another concrete definition.
Arline: Why? I don’t happen to think it does contravene, contradict unalienable rights. But I ain’t going to go there. Because that’s just not a territory that I’m an expert on. So I’ll defer to the fact that you have this position which is not shared by many constitutional scholars and biblical scholars.
John: I don’t know anyone who can say no to what I just said.
Arline: Oh, God, I had some people read your stuff and they said, and they thought very differently.
John: Have them email me, because last year when I was opposing same-sex marriage in Connecticut I sent this to all 187 legislators. I emailed 48 of them back and forth, OK, and I asked them to get their experts. So I am eager to be proven wrong. If I’m proven wrong I will tell you publicly.
Arline: John, here’s my point when I talk about terra firma. There is a body of law in this state and in every other state. Laws that you may or may not think have to do with unalienable rights. I don’t know. But I have a pretty good sense that they don’t. Who cares? Judgments get made about laws. Are they good or are they bad? If they don’t happen to fit into the particular narrow definition you’ve come up with as to what inalienable rights are and where they come from and who defines them. I don’t care. The question is, should there be worker’s compensation? Some time ago somebody passed a law that said there should be. Is it an unalienable right? I kinda doubt it. But I’m sure as hell glad that there is a worker’s compensation law so that if a construction worker falls off the top of a building while he’s working, his wife and children won’t starve to death. Now, the same question gets asked here. Maybe it’s not an unalienable right. I’ll stipulate that even though I think it’s wrong. For the moment I’ll stipulate it. Who cares? Tell me why my partner of fifteen years isn’t going to get my social security benefits when she’s a stay-at-home mom taking care of the kids, making a financial sacrifice for our family and herself, denying herself access to an adequate social security when she retires, so that our children can be better taken care of.
John: Well what you’re saying there, Arline, acknowledgably, that you and I have different definitions of rights. And you’re saying that those are rights that should be there. Well, since they’re not rooted in a concrete definition, you’re definition of rights might be different than someone else’s definition. And we can have 6.2 billion definitions. So in a free society we need to know as we come together and vote laws into existence, what is our basis to do that in a way where life, liberty and property are honored and protected for all people equally. Now when we look at the issue of health insurance or social security, that’s very interesting because the whole health insurance system the way it’s constructed is set to implode in the next ten or twenty years. And I’ve been working on an alternative to that, but that’s a larger issue. Social Security. I don’t have either. As a minister I’ve been exempt from social security for twenty-odd years. And I’m glad for that. But that’s a different philosophical basis. Do we…?
Arline: I think you’d call that a choice, right?
John: Well, what’s interesting was they didn’t allow ministers in for many years. And they tried to force us in, they even tried to pay us to get in the 1980s.
Arline: But you chose a profession where you knew you wouldn’t get it. So it’s a clear…
John: Oh, no, I could get it. All I had to do was not announce my ordination, or announce it 366 days afterwards and I would be forced into it. So I had to declare I didn’t want it. So we’re dealing with a philosophical understanding of how those needs are provided. By a top-down government, or by private contract with government protecting in a limited sense unalienable rights. I go for the latter.
Arline: But we’re not talking about that actually. Because what we’re talking about is whether you believe in top down, or whatever the other one was.
John: Bottom up.
Arline: Bottom up. Whichever you way want it, the question isn’t, is that one right and is the other wrong. The only question is, however it is for everybody, why can’t we have it, too? If everybody gets to have it top down, bottom up, why would gays and lesbians be denied the same equality?
John: You can. You can lobby for it and win it.
Arline: But you’re lobbying against us and I’m asking you why.
John: I’m telling you why. Because if we allow same-sex marriage to be defined as marriage, you undercut marriage and you undercut the complementarity between male and female that is the basis that God gave to us for unalienable rights. Once you undercut that you undercut unalienable rights. I believe that passionately. And this is why I put before you or put before anyone, the question: What society in all human history which has affirmed homosexuality in any capacity, has ever advanced unalienable rights for its dissenters? Never.
Arline: The countries that offer gay marriage [inaudible] today, do they in your definition offer unalienable rights?
John: They have no definition for it.
Arline: So the western, eastern European countries? So right now only the United States has inalienable rights?
John: Oh no. Others have it, but we’re the only nation founded written upon that in modern history. And many have imitated us. But you know, I gave a number of examples. You’ve been asking me questions. I haven’t asked you any yet, which is OK. But let me make an observation. I pointed out many levels where religious dissent to homosexuality has been opposed in Vermont and in Canada. I’m saying that is just an introduction to what is coming down the line. Because once you get rid of the source for unalienable rights, then it’s the right of the mighty over the others. And if the political sympathy…
Arline: That sort of sounds like the situation we have right now. Majority over minority. You guys outnumber us so you get to decide we don’t have the rights?
John: What are rights?
John: What are the sources and definitions[inaudible]. And the definition and source for rights I’m giving allows you the dissent with your life, liberty and property protected to make your case. But there’s no history ever of allowing dissenters to homosexuality in pagan nations that same right of dissent. Not one example.
Arline: It may be.
John: I’m arguing history. And if we don’t learn from the past, we’re condemned to repeat its worst abuses.
Arline: History. I’m kind of glad you mentioned history. History. The history of marriage in the nation and in Massachusetts. In Massachusetts and in dozens of other states, it used to be illegal for blacks and whites to marry. Interracial marriage laws. Anti-miscegenation laws. When did they get repealed? It was in this generation, a mere forty years ago that people decided, well, even if we don’t like it when blacks and white marry, we probably shouldn’t make it illegal. Now without getting into the legalisms of what they premised that decision on, we all of us, I like to think all of us, look back now and no matter what we think of interracial marriage say, how could they in a million years ever have thought to do that? That’s just looney telling two people if they happen to be black and white that they can’t marry.
John: I agree with you.
Arline: And that John is to me the situation we’re facing now. Because interestingly enough one of the attorneys that argued that infamous case, the Loving vs. Virginia case in the late 1960s, was a man named Professor Bernays. He came to testify at a hearing against an anti-gay initiative petition on this question. And he said in the hearing, or on another similar bill rather, he said, you know, the arguments that people use to justify opposing gay and lesbian marriage, same-sex marriage, are the exact same arguments that were used to justify opposing interracial marriage. Now I didn’t know that. I found it fascinating. And since then and have learned that it’s true.
John: Well I’m familiar with that argument. I want to make a simple observation. Every religious origin text in history apart from the Bible is racist and tribalistic and xenophobic. Only Genesis starts with all men and all women from the same parents, and concludes in Revelation of people of all races, tribes, nations, languages worshipping God together. Those who supported slavery, those who opposed interracial marriage were not doing so on biblical basis. And I’m the son of abolitionists.
Arline: Whoa. Hold it right there. Hold it right there. OK. That ain’t true, John. The people who supported slavery sought safe haven in their interpretation of the Bible. They threw it around right and left. The abolitionists were at a loss to find help and assistance for their arguments in the Bible. The slaveholders did. Now you can use the Bible any way you want to justify…
John: No, I have to digress with you on that one. I will argue, and I’m glad to give you the substance, of the fact that it was false biblical arguments, a false understanding of…
Arline: I’m willing to believe you. It was false.
John: OK, now. Also, my ancestor Reverend John T. Rankin ran the underground railroad for 44 years in Ohio. His entire argument was based on Scripture. It was based on unalienable rights for all people. So I think, and you’ve hit on something that is really key. I think the biggest weakness of the church is when it’s hypocritical. And what I’ve been arguing tonight is Genesis 1 and 2 before sin comes into the universe. And sin messes up all of us. Sin biblically is the brokenness of relationship and the introduction of distrust.
Arline: The problem, John, with your argument though is you’re basing it on your god and your interpretation of your god.
Arline: And we don’t have the same god.
John: I agree.
Arline: I’m a member of the United Church of Christ, or I’m a Unitarian-Universalist, or I’m a reformed Jew, or I’m a fill-in-the-blank I could name a lot of others. And my god and my religion believe that same-sex marriage is just fine. They sanctify our marriages.
John: I know that.
Arline: We’re not talking about forcing your religion to grant same-sex marriage.
John: No. I’ll tell you, the homosexual rights movement is not allowing the dissent in many concrete and legal capacities.
Arline: Oh, dissent ‘till the cows come home. We don’t care. We just want to make sure…
John: Oh, these laws do care.
Arline: We don’t want, we’re not trying to get married under your religion.
John: Oh, I know that.
Arline: We’re trying to get married under those religious-neutral laws of the state that says who gets social security.
John: Ah, and where in all of human history do you get religious liberty for dissent apart from the source of the unalienable rights given by the God of the Bible. Nowhere. And so if you want to argue that you have an equal…
John: It’s true. This is historically true.
Arline: [gasp] It may be, but so what?
John: If it may be and so what, then what it comes down to…
Arline: I mean, bring it back home.
John: That is home.
Arline: You have a religion. Your religion says we shouldn’t marry. My religion says we can marry. That’s like god versus god.
Arline: You know, I have a toddler. And you know toddlers do something where they’d stand there and they’d do something comparable to this. They’d go, [singing] my god’s better than you’re god.
John: Have you heard me say that?
Arline: Well, in a way you are.
John: I’ve made an historical statement about the source of life, liberty and property.
Arline: Under your interpretation of your god.
John: Well wait a minute.
Arline: It ain’t mine.
John: This is the source for the Declaration and the Constitution. This is history. And if you can show me otherwise please do so. And having said that I then say, you have the liberty to dissent. But I’m also arguing that the homosexual rights movement historically and presently does not give dissenters to its homosexual ideas the same freedom.
Arline: John, if you give us the right to marry I guarantee you we’ll give you all the dissent to disagree with us that you want. I mean…
I can’t give rights. Only God can give rights and they can’t
be taken away by government.
John: I understand.
Arline: The rights, benefits, responsibilities, obligations that come with that. And if you don’t want to call it a right that’s all right. And if you don’t want to believe that it’s right that’s all right. And if you want to think it’s horrible because your religion condemns it that’s all right. It would make me sad, but I can live with that. What I can’t live with is your saying that your god, your religion, your interpretation of your god and your religion is now going to land on my life and say because…
John: Ah, but wait a minute. Let’s look at historical process. You are the one seeking to change the laws of marriage.
John: They have never been challenged this way in all of human history.
Arline: But they’ve been changed constantly.
John: Ah, but OK, that’s fair enough. But the onus of the argument is on you to make a positive case of how this advances the civil liberties for all people.
Arline: Ah, it’s a very interesting perspective. I see it actually just 180 degrees opposite. To me the person who is arguing to deny someone equality under the law, that’s the person with the greatest burden.
John: That’s an argument that you’ve just come to recently with the advance of same-sex marriage.
Arline: No, actually this is always thought that.
John: Absolutely. It never existed until the 1960s [inaudible].
Arline: The people seeking equality should not be under the burden of coming up with constructs that satisfy the majority. What they have to come up with is asking the person who’s denying them the rights, why. Why?
John: In a free society, to change the law the onus is very high. If I want to change the laws. I want to change Roe v. Wade and win legal protection for women and their unborn equally, which I would like to do. It requires me to win a majority of the states and the state legislatures and that’s a very high hurdle.
Arline: I agree.
John: And so if you want to change the laws you have the same high hurdle. I give you the liberty to try to do that.
Arline: Well, we’re not debating whether we have the right to change laws. We each agree that the other one has the right to try and change the law. What we’re talking about…
John: In a system only rooted in the God of the Bible.
Arline: Within the current system.
Arline: And if I’m a Muslim, I’m a Hindu, I’m a fill-in-the blank. Are you telling me that my god isn’t included in the Constitution?
John: That’s a good question. And so you will have to ask yourself the following. First of all, I said clearly, all people deserve the same unalienable rights regardless…
Arline: Unless they’re gay and lesbian.
John: No. Life, liberty and property. Those are unalienable rights.
Arline: Except for the liberty to get married.
John: Because marriage is not a right. Marriage is assumed by the giver of unalienable rights. So if you disagree with that you’re making an argument against it. But I want to answer your question you just asked about Muslims and Hindus. Well then you can ask, and I am beginning to study Arabic, I read the Koran. You can ask those who are Muslims, do they have a concept for unalienable rights for dissenters. They do not. You can ask Hinduism in its caste system history, in its dualistic Gnosticism back down from the Arian migrations, you can ask if it has unalienable rights for people. No, the caste system is precisely the opposite. But we, and those of us in this country based in the Creator who gives unalienable rights, gives those people the right to protection of life, liberty and property.
Arline: I’m not prepared to say that these other religions are inferior to ours just because they fall into…
John: I’m not using that language. I do believe there is one Creator. And my argument is a positive one.
Arline: But so do they all. They all think there’s only one Creator and they all think it’s their version of the Creator.
John: Polytheists don’t think that.
Arline: OK, polytheists don’t think that.
John: All Hindus are polytheists. [murmurs and voices from audience]
Arline: Oh, I missed that one.
John: Well look at all their named gods and goddesses.
Voice in audience: Get the moderator in here.
Arline: The point is this. Whatever you may think, do you have the right to take that and superimpose that on the lives of millions of gay men and lesbians.
John: I haven’t. All I’ve said is the history of unalienable rights that define marriage…
Arline: You do it, though, when you advocate that we be denied this right.
John: No, that’s your liberty.
Arline: Or law.
John: No, you are trying to change the law as it’s been established a long time. And you are free to do so. And therefore you need to make a positive argument for it and not invest us with a negative pre-argument, which we didn’t even think about until same-sex marriage came up.
Arline: I’ll give you a positive argument. My family, my children need to be protected. They need these rights and benefits.
John: And if you undercut the God of the Bible and definition of marriage, you undercut the society that would protect your life, liberty and property.
Arline: I’m not going to undercut society. I just want some rights and benefits that protect my family.
John: Rights and benefits that are unique to you, but there might be six billion other definitions, you compete, and what do you come up with?
Arline: I’ll come up with a list. The fourteen-hundred ones. Very specific. Very clear. Nothing ambiguous. Tell me, because you haven’t really yet, should I be denied domestic partner health insurance benefits?
John: You have the freedom to lobby for that within the laws.
Arline: But do you think I should be denied that?
John: Denied? Well you’re asking larger questions about bottom up or top down.
Female voice in audience: Answer the question.
Male voice in audience: Yes or no.
John: Once again, we can’t answer that question unless you define the source of rights.
Arline: No, I could define the source as health insurance.
John: You can have laws protecting that. I’ve always said that. But not if you change law to ordain same-sex marriage because at that point you’re undercutting unalienable rights and the very basis for the protection of the right of contract, as well as the prior realities of life and liberty. You’ve asked me a lot of questions. And I did want to ask you some questions.
John: But let me just ask you one very simple question. And you don’t have to answer this. You shared a personal story, and this is somewhat of a personal question. If you think it’s too personal you don’t have to answer.
John: You mentioned you and your partner conceiving together. Well you conceived together in terms of the will, but not in terms of the source or the spermatozoa.
Arline: That’s true.
John: That came from another source.
John: When your children grow up and they ask you who their daddy is, how will you answer that?
Arline: I’m going to tell them the truth. And I’ll respond further. Lesbian families, gay families, there’s a whole lot of ways we end up having kids. Some do it via a vial at the sperm bank. Some do it with a friend down the street who’s agreed to be a donor. Some do it and have the donor always in their lives, and some not. But why does it matter? What matters when it comes to children is are they in a home which is nurturing, loving, caring. Are they being taken care of? Now there’s no lesbian you will ever meet, except for those strange ones who told you that all of us are abused. [audience laughter]
John: They didn’t say “all.” All that they knew. And I distanced that from statistical claims.
Arline: Right. Although I have to say they’re sort of a self-selected group of lesbians who would go up to someone who’s anti-gay and say, by the way, we’ve all been abused. [audience laughter]
John: You know something? I have to give you a little background for that. I was there in a class on feminist ethics. And I was known as an evangelical minister. I was studying. I never brought up the issue. The issue was never a subject. They walked up to me at the Refrectory at Harvard Divinity School and they said, John, for an evangelical you’re a nice guy. That to them was an oxymoron. Why was that? Because I wasn’t pushing an agenda on them. I was studying with them feminist ethics. They volunteered that testimony to me that was an absolute news to me at the time.
Arline: It’s news to me, too. I gotta tell you, John, I’ve known a lot of lesbians. And I’ve been doing this work for so many years that I’ve met more than probably those three combined could in a lifetime. And what I’ve noticed is that, yeah, there’s some that have been abused, just like some straight women I know have been abused.
Arline: But, it is inconsequentially insignificant compared to the majority of them. I can honestly say I can look in your eyes and say, the overwhelming majority of my dearest and closest friends of the hundreds of lesbians I know, that simply is not the truth. But even if it were, what does that have to do with our right to have marriage?
John: Well, the reason that I brought it up, OK, is when I heard that testimony, that was shocking to me.
John: And if that has any truth in it, is the attempt at same-sex marriage a way to gain safe haven from what they didn’t have as a child.
Arline: No, but then all the straight women that got abused would become lesbian.
John: There are far more straight people… [audience laughter]. No. If you look at the statistics, there are far more heterosexual people that have been abused than homosexual people by their own testimonies.
John: I didn’t discount that. I was making a specific observation. I want to ask one final question here real quickly. In your children, is there any need for them to have male influence in their growing up? And if so, how do you accomplish that?
Arline: Like most lesbian couples we make it a point of having in their lives a variety of different people. And we make it a point of having male influences in their lives.
John: So you do believe there is a complementarity between male and female.
Arline: That wouldn’t be my choice of words. I just think it’s good for all kids, boy or girl, to have men and women in their lives in some capacity.
John: Is it good for all boys and girls to have equal influence of male and female?
Arline: Well I know that’s not possible, because I know no kid ever has…
Arline: Well I know that even for straight homes, you know, the father would up until recently, the father’s out working eighty hours a week, and the mother’s taking care of the kids all day. So obviously there’s no complementarity. So I assume you can’t ever often obtain that.
Ideally? What does that have to do with whether I have the right to
[About the Participants] [Opening
Statement by Arline Isaacson] [Opening
Statement by John Rankin][Dialog]
[Questions from the Audience] [Closing
[Return to Mars Hill Forum]