Homosexuality, Diversity and Marriage
What are the issues?
Two Perspectives

Article on Mars Hill Forum #88 from
The New Hampshire
29 October 2004
(original here)
Same-Sex Marriage Debate Causes Tension

By Jessica Fish

The temperament within the Strafford Room during the "Homosexuality, Diversity and Marriage" debate Monday night resembled the polarities of the current political spectrum. Without any direction, anti same-sex marriage supporters sat on the right, while mostly pro-GLTBQ advocates filled the seats on the left of the room. Rarely did both sides, over 200 in all, clap simultaneously, creating a division amongst the attendants much larger than the central aisle.

The event was sponsored by Chi Alpha and Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. The debate followed a format called the Mars Hill Forum, which allowed for 15-minute opening statements, 20 minutes of dialogue and over an hour's worth of audience questions directed at the speakers.

The Rev. John Rankin, the President of the Theological Education Institute in Hartford, Conn., created the Mars Hill Forum format in order to engage in controversial dialogue in a public forum. Rankin said he conducts debates in order "to create an area where skeptics are welcome, and the best way to do that is to invite a guest who may have opposing views...my incumbency is to show goodness by treating skeptics as equals as it is modeled in the Gospels."

Rankin, who described himself as being "raised an agnostic Unitarian, who converted to a biblical and evangelical faith," argued his anti same-sex marriage views against Gary Daffin, the co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus who filled in last minute for Arline Isaacson, his co-chair. Daffin identified himself as a gay African American Christian.

The debate focused on issues of same-sex marriage as they apply to Massachusetts. On Nov. 18, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, in a narrow four to three vote, ruled that the law prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying violated the state constitution. The ruling went into effect Monday, May 17, 2004.

Rankin argued that Massachusetts has raised same-sex marriage to the level of an unalienable right, similar to the rights to life, liberty and property, which are mentioned in the beginning of the Constitution. He argued that the Constitution was written by Christian men and was based on the God of the Bible from whom unalienable rights originate.

Rankin then asserted that because the Bible does not condone homosexual marriage that the Constitution, which was based on the Bible, should not be used to give homosexuals the right to marry. Rankin further argued that if same-sex marriage is permitted, and given the status of an unalienable right, eventually polygamy and group marriage could be legalized and ministers could be forced to perform same-sex marriages. Rankin repeatedly questioned Daffin, "What logic do you have historically to prevent other changes from following after same-sex marriage?"

In response, Daffin argued that Massachusetts has not changed marriage but has opened the opportunity to everyone

"Unalienable rights should be given or not given to all of us equally," he said. Daffin also told Rankin that Massachusetts has widened the scope for civil not religious marriage, and that religious officials can not and will not "be forced to perform marriage ceremonies."

"America is a civil rights movement about opening up more and more rights to people," said Daffin as the left side of the audience vigorously clapped. "We're not trying to change the institution of marriage we're trying to gain access to it." A few audience members questioned Daffin about his position as a gay man and a Christian.

Daffin replied that he does not "see the two as different" and that he has "a different interpretation of the Bible" than Rankin.

Comments made after the debate further capture the polarity of the event. Freshmen Stacey Phelps commentated that she "thought Gary [Daffin] didn't have a lot of facts, he used a lot of 'umms' and fillers and he said it himself, he has no logic." Jeff Pavelglio, a sophomore said he "thought John [Rankin] was untouchable."

Conversely, freshman Miranda Pillebrown, said, "The fact that our SAF [student activity fee] money went to it upset me because they tried, but the event was still biased. It was Bible-based and didn't talk about politics...[Rankin] stepped on the feet of other religious traditions...civil rights are not up for debate."

Jake Crumb, a junior said, "First of all it was too bad that Arline couldn't make it. I feel that Gary was put on the spot. Yet, John was standing on a one-legged argument that felt rehearsed and memorized." Bob Coffey, the coordinator GLTBQ issues at UNH, was asked by Chi Alpha to co-sponsor the event both financially and in name. Coffey was concerned that the two-person format would "implicitly say that one can't be Christian and gay" and he proposed a panel of people representing a variety of religious traditions discuss the issue instead. According to Coffey, Chi Alpha refused to use a panel and Coffey did not co-sponsor the event. Coffey, who chose not to attend the event, said that he was "assured that it would not be a religious debate."

Bryan Bessette, director of Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship, said, " I was surprised by the amount of religious overtones. I felt as though because Gary didn't have a specific vein outside of religion and it caused the dialogue to remain on religion more." However, Bassette said, "I thought it accomplished the goal to let students express their opinions, and not get shot down based on what they believe, to open up opposition for greater dialogue." As the evening came to a close after almost three hours of discussion, both Rankin and Daffin were surrounded by students thanking them for sharing their thoughts. Rankin said he was pleased with the evenings events while Daffin commented that he was upset the debate "focused so much on religious beliefs verses the politics involved," saying that he "didn't find the debate that interesting."