Gay Marriage in Theology, Law and Politics
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
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.
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.
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.
Advocates and Advocacy Groups:
Freedom to Marry
Family Research Council
Human Rights Campaign
Institute for American Values
Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry
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
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)