Gay Marriage in Theology, Law and Politics

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William Stacy Johnson, Princeton Theological Seminary
David Blankenhorn, Institute for American Values
Kerry Healey, Former Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts
Cheryl Jacques, Brody, Hardoon, Perkins & Kesten, LLP
Erik Owens, Boston College (moderator)

Date: April 22, 2008

Listen to Panel Discussion


Gay marriage is much debated as a local and national issue today, but rarely is it given the conscientious and rigorous attention that such a hotly contested issue deserves.  This panel discussion aims at a more complete engagement with the theological, political and legal complexities surrounding gay marriage in the wake of (but not exclusively attentive to) Massachusetts' legalization of gay marriage in 2004.

Speaker Bios

William Stacy Johnson

William Stacy Johnson is Princeton Theological Seminary’s Arthur M. Adams Associate Professor of Systematic Theology. An ordained Presbyterian minister and a lawyer, he earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University, his J.D. from Wake Forest University, and his M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary and the Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia.

He served for four years as theologian-in-residence of Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas, and was the first theologian-in-residence at First Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas. For five years he worked as a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church.

In his recent book A Time to Embrace, Prof. Johnson presents an analysis of the religious, legal and political stakes in the debates over gay marriage, civil unions, and the place of committed gay couples in a democratic society.

The book begins by laying out the church’s seven different responses to gay marriage.  It then moves on to gay rights in recent court battles, different types of gay marriage and civil union arrangements and, finally, suggests how deliberative democracy can create a society in which all citizens can rely on principles of equality and liberty.

David Blankenhorn

David Blankenhorn is founder and president of the Institute for American Values, a private, nonpartisan organization devoted to contributing intellectually to the renewal of marriage and family life and the sources of competence, character and citizenship in the United States.

Mr. Blankenhorn has co-edited five books: Rebuilding the Nest: A New Commitment to the American Family (1990); Seedbeds of Virtue: Sources of Competence, Character, and Citizenship in American Society (1995); Promises to Keep: Decline and Renewal of Marriage in America (1996); The Fatherhood Movement (1999); and The Book of Marriage: The Wisest Answers to the Toughest Questions (2001) and is the author of The Future of Marriage (2007)

Mr. Blankenhorn helped to found the National Fatherhood Initiative and he serves on the board of directors of the National Parenting Association.  His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The Public Interest, First Things and Christianity Today, and he has been featured on programs such as Oprah, 20/20, Eye to Eye, CBS This Morning, The Today Show, Charlie Rose, ABC Evening News, Equal Time, and C-SPAN's Washington Perspectives.

Kerry Healey

Kerry Healey graduated from Harvard College in 1982 and earned her Ph.D. in political science and law from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. In 1985, Dr. Healey was a visiting researcher in the International and Comparative Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School.  In 2001, Dr. Healey was elected Chairwoman of the Massachusetts Republican Party.  From 2003-2007, Dr. Healey served as Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  In the spring of 2007, Dr. Healey was a Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government Institute of Politics.

As Lieutenant Governor, Dr. Healey assumed a broad range of responsibilities.  These included leading the administrations' successful efforts to strengthen drunken driving penalties, establish a witness protection and gang violence prevention program, increase penalties and supervision for sex offenders, and increase protections for victims of child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence.

As a private citizen, Dr. Healey worked as a law and public safety consultant at Abt Associates, Inc., in Cambridge, MA, conducting research for the U.S. Department of Justice related to child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, gang violence, victim and witness intimidation and the prosecution of drug crimes.

Cheryl Jacques

Cheryl Jacques is a national leader in the gay civil rights movement who writes and speaks on issues of diversity, civil rights and politics.  She is Of Counsel to the Boston-based law firm of Brody, Hardoon, Perkins and Kesten, and is a consultant on diversity issues to corporations and non-profit organizations.  Jacques is an Adjunct Professor at Suffolk University Law School and the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management.  She is also a Fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Jacques formerly served as president and executive director of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and led HRC through the successful defeat of the anti-gay Federal Marriage Amendment.  Jacques took the helm of HRC after serving nearly a dozen years in the Massachusetts State Senate, where she was a leader on civil rights and equality in the Massachusetts Legislature. Jacques successfully pushed for the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Commonwealth’s Hate Crimes Statute and was an outspoken advocate for the needs of gay and lesbian youth in Massachusetts.  In 2002, Jacques lead a bi-partisan coalition of legislators to defeat the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in Massachusetts.

Erik Owens

Erik Owens is Assistant Director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Theology at Boston College. He earned his Ph.D. in religious ethics at the University of Chicago, an M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from Duke University. His research explores a variety of intersections between religion and public life, with particular attention to the challenge of fostering the common good of a religiously diverse society.  His scholarship is fundamentally interdisciplinary, bridging the fields of theological ethics, political philosophy, law, education, and public policy. Currently at work on a book about civic education and religious freedom in American public schools, he is also the co-editor of three books: Gambling and the American Moral Landscape (forthcoming 2009, with Alan Wolfe), Religion and the Death Penalty: A Call for Reckoning (2004) and The Sacred and the Sovereign: Religion and International Politics (2003). Before joining the Boisi Center, Owens received research fellowships from the Spencer Foundation and the University of Virginia’s Center on Religion and Democracy; taught at the University of Chicago and DePaul University; and worked for the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, as well as the City of Chicago’s Board of Ethics.

Event Photos

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From left to right: Erik Owens, William Stacy Johnson, David Blakenhorn, Cheryl Jacques, Kerry Healey

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Erik Owens

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William Stacy Johnson

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David Blankenhorn

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Cheryl Jacques

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Kerry Healey

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From left to right: William Stacy Johnson, David Blakenhorn, Cheryl Jacques, Kerry Healey (Photos by Kerry Burke, BC Media Technology Services)

Event Recap

The Boisi Center’s final event of the academic year brought a robust crowd on April 22 to a panel discussion on “Gay Marriage in Theology, Law and Politics.” The panel took stock of the issue four years after Massachusetts became the first—and still the only—state in the U.S. to legalize gay marriage. Erik Owens moderated the vigorous discussion that followed the speakers’ opening remarks.

William Stacy Johnson, a professor of systematic theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, began the panel by describing seven distinct theological approaches to gay marriage clustered into categories of “non-affirming,” “welcoming and affirming,” and “welcoming, affirming and ordering” viewpoints, the last being his favored position. Drawing upon his recent book A Time to Embrace, Johnson sought to dispel the simplistic rhetoric that allows one to be only “for” or “against” gay marriage, arguing instead that churches can move toward reconciliation on this issue only when they recognize the rich diversity of such perspectives within their faith communities.

David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values, argued that although heterosexual and homosexual relationships have equal value, marriage is an institution rightly reserved for one man and one woman. Marriage, he said, serves not simply the private romantic function of bonding two adults but also the more important public function of protecting and nurturing children, who have a natural right to be raised by their biological parents. Drawing upon recent social scientific data, he cited an inverse correlation between support for traditional marriage and support for gay marriage, and argued that legalizing the latter would further diminish the prochild core value of traditional marriage.

Cheryl Jacques, former Massachusetts state senator and former president of the Human Rights Campaign, contextualized the movement for gay marriage as part of the ongoing civil rights struggle in this country. Gays and lesbians, she argued, face discrimination today akin to past efforts to marginalize women, African-Americans, and other ethnic and religious minorities. Members of these groups simply want and deserve equality; they should have equal rights, not special rights.

The final speaker was Kerry Healey, who served as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts when the state supreme court legalized gay marriage in 2004. Had the legislature acted on the increasing public pressure to grant modest legal rights to gay relationships (e.g. regarding medical visits and inheritance), she noted, the state supreme court would not have intervened with a decree to sanction full marriage rights. This act of judicial activism went well beyond the incremental steps most citizens favored, and led to years of divisiveness and acrimony. Perhaps the most appropriate solution for church and state alike, she suggested, would be for the state to grant only civil unions (to heterosexual and homosexual couples). Marriage would then be the exclusive province of religious communities, which could define it in their own terms.

Read More

A Reconciliation on Gay Marriage by David Blankenhorn and John Rauch, New York Times, February 22, 2009

Books: A Time to Embrace by William Stacy Johnson
    Excerpt (chart): "Same-Gender Relationships in the Church: Seven Theological Viewpoints"
 The Future of Marriage by David Blankenhorn
 Virtually Normal by Andrew Sullivan

 Gay Marriage Issue Resources: The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life
  This issue page from The Pew Forum, a non-partisan, non-advocacy organization
  that takes no position on policy debates, offers an excellent collection of legal, political
  and theological resources about the gay marriage debate.

 Institute for American Values: Resources on Marriage

 Advocates and Advocacy Groups:
  DOMA watch
  Freedom to Marry
  Family Research Council
  Human Rights Campaign
  Institute for American Values
  Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry

 Official Statements of Religious Organizations:Many of these links were assembled by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (see above).

 Roman Catholic Church:
    Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:
      * Statement on Unions between Homosexual Persons (March 2003)  
      * Statement on Pastoral Care for Homosexual Persons (October 1986)
    United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)
Marriage and Family 
      * How does legalizing same-sex marriage deny the true nature of marriage? 
      * National Pastoral Initiative on Marriage

 Episcopal Church
 National Association of Evangelicals
 Southern Baptist Convention
 United Church of Christ
 United Methodist Church

 Other Documents:

Federal Marriage Amendment (Proposed) - Library of Congress
Federal Defense of Marriage Act - signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996
Goodridge v Dept of Public Health - Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Decision (2004)