Maine GayNet - Gay rights debate causes anguish for some

Saturday, January 3, 1998

Gay rights debate causes anguish for some

By Susan Kinzie, Of the NEWS Staff--

Jasper Wyman was the first representative to speak against the gay-rights bill.

Then he was silent.

As he voted against the bill during the two sessions in which he served, "I didn't speak. I just cast my vote," he said.

But as the executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine from 1984 to 1993, Wyman was perhaps the single most vocal opponent of the bill, campaigning against it year after year.

He didn't make speeches on the House floor because "it just didn't matter to me that much," he said.

"That is the one issue I wish I had never met. I detested it."

Speaking from Connecticut, where he now works for Prison Fellowship Ministries, Jack Wyman sounds like a different person from the man who made speech after speech against gay rights. In some ways, his views mirror those of society, which no longer has the strong moral consensus it once did.

The issue got a lot more complicated over the years, Wyman said.

When he was a 23-year-old pastor and freshman representative, he and many others saw the issue as one in which morality was clearly on one side. "It was those against homosexual rights, immoral rights, and those favoring it," he said.

Now, he said, "there is a morally persuasive argument on both sides for the undecided voter: 'Am I going to vote to sanction immoral, perverted behavior, or justice and fairness for all of God's creation?' Each one of those is a moral argument that could even be backed up by Scripture on both sides."

He is wrestling with that question. "I believe [homosexuality] is immoral. But you know what else? I think adultery is immoral. I think pushing tobacco products on our kids is immoral. And I think calling somebody a faggot at a public meeting and saying, 'God says kill the faggots,' is immoral." It was at a crowded public meeting in Lewiston, he said, that he saw that happen. "I was on the same side as this guy," Wyman said with horror. "I grabbed my coat and walked out.

"... I've met a lot of gay people that are good and decent, a lot kinder and more compassionate than the people on the other side. When you get a group of opponents together and listen to a lot of the testimony - wow," he said, and paused. "Who would I rather be stuck on an island with?"

He said he could not, in good conscience, fire someone because the employee was gay, so he questions whether it's right that anyone else could do it and the gay employee would have no legal recourse.

"I would still argue that a law is not necessary," he said slowly. "I do think it's great that companies are enacting their own anti-discrimination policies. I've struggled with this, in my heart and soul."

He probably wouldn't have launched the petition drive if he were still head of the Christian Civic League, he said. Even if he had,"we wouldn't have gotten the signatures" needed to force an election, because he wouldn't have worked with the Christian Coalition, which he feels is too extremist.

Whether the law goes into effect or not is not going to change anyone's sexual behavior or personal morality, he said. Contrary to what he believed as head of the Christian Civic League, "there's no law that's gonna make you be good. It's going to be individuals in homes and workplaces taking stands and modeling what is right that is going to change the course of our society."

He said that issues such as high divorce rates and changes in popular culture are "wreaking a much greater moral consequence for America than the single issue of gay rights."

But that single issue has affected his life more than any other, he believes. When he said he hated the issue, it was because he believes that in 25 years of involvement with public policy, "that was the one thing that so negatively and erroneously defined Jack Wyman in the public mind in Maine. ... It's not an issue that you could take hold of and argue in such a way - and believe me, I tried mightily - that would leave anything other than the impression that you were a fundamentalist and a bigot.

"If you weren't for it you were a hater," he said, then laughed a bit bitterly. "You might be a smooth-talking hater, a gracious and dignified hater.

"People said I could go all the way, be governor of Maine, if I weren't identified with the Christian Civic League," he said thoughtfully. He ran in 1994 and came in third in an eight-way Republican primary race. "I never overcame all those years of fighting gay rights."

He is thinking about running for the state Legislature in Connecticut.

"Now that I'm down here in Connecticut, it's a different story. I'm not bashing gays and doing stuff like that."

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