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ISSUE 117 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/14/2003

Debate flares over civil unions

By Julie Gunderson
Sports Editor

Friday, November 14, 2003

A month after President Bush’s proclaimed "Marriage Protection Week," an estimated 70 students and community members at St. Olaf gathered Tuesday evening to hear a discussion on the controversial topic of civil unions. The debate sponsored by the Political Awareness Committee (PAC) featured speakers Kathy Kersten, a senior fellow at the Center of the American Experiement, and former Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) Bishop Lowell Erdahl. Kersten took the side supporting the traditional view of marriage, while Erdahl argued in support of civil unions.

Both Kersten and Erdahl were allotted time for initial comments. Then Erdahl was allowed a brief rebuttal. A lengthy question-and-answer session followed.

Erdahl began the event by sharing personal experiences explaining how he arrived at his present beliefs. He stated that he was an advocate of marriage but emphasized that he has come to the understanding that a person’s sexual orientation is not their choice.

"I am a heterosexual, not because of my own choice; I personally am convinced that we do not choose our sexual orientation," he said.

Erdahl urged the church to re-examine its position on homosexuality. He said that the half-dozen texts in the Bible that deal with homosexuality cannot be understood through strict interpretation. Erdahl cited examples of the Bible condoning slavery and excluding women from the clergy as evidence that these passages need to be scrutinized by the Christian church.

"I’ve studied the Bible and I’ve listened to Biblical scholars," Erdahl said. "From them, I’ve heard a mixed message. Some advocate for a traditional reading of the Bible, while some say that we need to take a new look at [homosexuality]. I believe that the Christian church needs to take a new look."

Erdahl also explained the ELCA’s current position on homosexuality. The church prohibits the ordination of homosexuals, but the blessing of homosexual couples is left up to pastoral discretion. The ELCA is planning to revisit its position on homosexuality and the church in 2005.

"I personally believe that we should be ordaining them," Erdahl said.

Erdahl also shared his desire for unity within the church.

"It is my hope and prayer that we can be a church so united in Jesus Christ that we can live and work together in Christ despite our differences," Erdahl said.

Kersten focused her talk on the harmful effects that civil unions will have on society, as well as the unknown causes of homosexuality.

She said a sexual revolution of the 1960s began the deterioration of the traditional family structure. The number of marriages that ended in divorces and the number of children born out of wedlock sharply rose in the decades following. Kersten cited these occurrences and their ill effects on children as the proof of need for a return to traditional marriage instead of a radical redefinition of the institution.

"Sanctioning gay unions would be a grave mistake," Kersten said. "For the good of the next generation we should be working to preserve the structure of traditional marriage."

Kersten said that children would be the number one victims of civil unions ... She cited studies showing the necessity of children being raised by both a mother and a father.

Most counter studies that approve of children being raised in same-sex households, Kersten said, have been conducted with small sample sizes and completed by advocacy research groups that are trying to support a claim.

"It will take a generation for us to figure out just what the effects are to children who are raised in these [same-sex] households," Kersten said. "Back in the 1960s when there was a push for no-fault divorce, there were many scholars that supported it and even claimed that it would have no harmful effects on children, but now we look at divorce and we can all agree that it does harm children."

Discussing the nature of homosexuality, Kersten explained that very little is known about the complexity of sexual orientation.

Kersten compared homosexuality to schizophrenia, manic depression, alzheimer’s and other disorders of this nature – a view that differs from that of many gay rights activists, who claim homosexuality is an inborn trait like race or gender.

Kersten, however, pointed to the fact that these claims were not based on scientific evidence.

Kersten also shared the results of studies done on identical twins, saying if there was a "gay gene" identical twins would be expected to have the same sexual orientation 100 percent of the time. Results of the studies, however, show sexual orientation was only the same 50 percent of the time.

In the question and answer session, students questioned Kersten about her categorization of homosexuality as a psychological disorder, noting that the American Psychological Association (APA) does not currently accept this view.

Kersten said out that until 1973 the APA did accept this view, but because of a consurted political effort in the 1970s headed by gay rights activists, not new scientific information, the APA was pressured to drop the categorization of homosexuality as a psychological disorder.

PAC’s next event will be a debate on civil liberties between former Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan and American Civil Liberties Union President Nadine Strossen Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. in Boe Chapel.

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