Homosexuality, Diversity and Marriage
What are the issues?
Article on Mars Hill Forum #88 from
The New Hampshire
29 October 2004
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."
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
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."
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