By Ernie Over, managing editor, county10.com
(Riverton, Wyo.) – A reasoned discussion occurred on Central Wyoming College’s campus over Marriage Equality, on Wednesday. CWC Diversity Committee sponsored the “Hot Topic” event which brought two religious leaders to debate the issue. Father J. Kenneth Asel, an Episcopal priest at St. John’s Church in Jackson, WY who is currently on sabbatical in Austin, Texas, and Rev. John C. Rankin, an author and founder of the Theological Education Institute in Hartford, CT.
Predictably, the differences in opinion came down to differences in the interpretation of the Bible.
Following 90 minutes of a lively give-and-take, including answering some audience questions, Asel noted that as a country, “we have struggled with the definition of “all” and who is equal.” He said that, “on a personal level as a white male heterosexual, to tell homosexuals that they don’t or shouldn’t feel the need to have society protections is pretty arrogant. The clergy doesn’t need to be there for the union of two people.”
Rankin reiterated a theme he touched on often, noting that he didn’t want the state “to push anything on us. How can we understand rights unless we understand unalienable rights,” he asked. And he defined unalienable rights as those granted by God and as outline in Genesis.
Are all men created equal?
Asel said his Confederate ancestors fought hard to restrict the interpretation of the word “All” and fought a civil war over the issue. Asel said the word documented the history of the time when it was included in the Declaration of Independence and that it was meant to include everyone. Rankin said the word “all” was central to delineate that “rights may not be taken away because the Creator gave them to all, as long as we do not injure others.”
Rankin noted that the American Revolution was sparked, in part by King George dictating civil and religious law as the head of government and of the Church of England. ”That led to a revolution to have freedom for religion, not freedom from religion.” He said both the Constitution and Declaration of Independence aspired to give rights to all, and he said he affirms those rights. “I have no right to give a different opinion unless I honor those rights of others.” He said those rights were rooted in Genesis chapters 1 and 2.
Reading from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, Asel said marriage vows “are a solemn public covenant before God,” which he said refers to the priest being a witness, while the marriage itself is performed by the people being married, through their vows of commitment to each other. “The Priest is there to make sure the state’s interests are covered and to bless the relationship and commitment made by the couple. “The issue of commitment and fidelity and love for one another is worth any social disruption we might experience,” he said. In England, Asel said all marriages were civil and if the couple wanted the marriage blessed by the church, “they went down the street.”
Rankin, however, said that “when laws become so voluminous they cannot be read or understood, then constitutional government is danger.” He said the simplicity of the Bible is crushed with the top heavy minutia of the law. “Let me be free to enjoy my inalienable rights granted by God.” He said when he said marriage is moved out of diversity, that being a man and a woman, to one one of same genders, what he called monolithic relationships, diversity is lost. ” He also said it was important that a “diverse” relationship be modeled to children for their success in life.
Abel said a marriage between two people leads to stability which he said was a prime benefit for society. “Married people have a stake in the system. When people own their own businesses and homes, it becomes a leveling effect on society because it helps them to succeed,” he said. “Marriage is the first line of psychological support.” He said marriage is based on deep love and commitment to each other, which transcends “traditions.”
Rankin, again, went back to his assertion that he is first theological, and then political. “First the gospel, and then politics. It goes back to Genesis,” he said. “Goodness was rooted in trust of one another, and that leads to unalienable rights. It is the civil rights of all time.” He said rights cannot be humanly defined, because those in power can change them. Unalienable rights, however, “are given by the creator,” so he said same sex marriage can be argued as a liberty given by the state. “So the real question,” he posed, “do we mutually honor a constitutional process?”
In closing, Asel said he really didn’t understand the argument. “Allowing everyone to accept the model of commitment and love and dedicating themselves to each other is a model of Christian marriage. I don’t understand why some are excluded from that.”
Rankin said there had to be balance between Church and State. “To be against marriage equality means I must be against equality, and that’s not true,” he said. “I am a pro-life libertarian. I don’t care politically about anyone’s personal life in any capacity so long as they don’t infringe on other people. One man, one woman, one lifetime.”
County residents will have another chance to hear the question debated, this time in the reading of the play “8″ as presented by the CWC Theatre Department this Sunday, March 3, at 2:30 p.m. in the Robert A. Peck Arts Center Theatre. The reading is based on the lawsuit filed by two same-sex couples in California,