It was June 2008, and Javen Swanson and Obadiah Ballinger took a day trip to Block Island. Lying on the sand, Javen turned to Obadiah.
They had been dating for nearly two years. Ballinger had just graduated from Yale Divinity School and Swanson still had a couple years of schooling to go. The inevitable “where do we go from here,” talk had been discussed many times ending with no immediate answer, so their future was hanging in the balance.
Javen knew it was the right time to pop the question.
But before he could get his life-changing words out, Obadiah interrupted.
“What do you think about getting married?”
Connecticut wouldn’t allow same-sex couples to marry, but it wouldn’t stop them.
"We had planned on having a wedding, calling it, for ourselves, a marriage, even if it wouldn’t be legally recognized in Connecticut,” said Javen, a 25-year-old New Haven resident. “For us, whether it was going to be a civil marriage, a legal marriage or not, it was going to be a marriage.”
But four months later, on Oct. 10, the state’s Supreme Court justices voted 4-3 on Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health, ruling it unconstitutional to deny homosexual couples the right to wed. Connecticut became the second state in the country to recognize same-sex marriage.
The day was a joyous one for homosexuals and same-sex marriage supporters across the state, but the day was defeating for advocates against same-sex marriage.
“Something that big and important should be left for the people to decide.”
In its 20th year, the Family Institute of Connecticut is on the front-lines against their war on same-sex marriage. It is “bad for children, bad for religious liberty and bad for marriage itself,” Wolfgang said.
Joining the Institute in 2001 as a volunteer, Wolfgang quickly moved up in the organization. He was named director of public policy in 2004 and took over as executive director in 2007.
“We exist to promote and protect the family,” Wolfgang said. “We’re the voice of social conservatism in Connecticut.
”Wolfgang argues that children live better lives when they are raised in a family with both a mother and a father. He said American society doesn’t need to “undergo another social experiment” such as the divorce revolution of the 1970’s.
“It’s not about homosexuality, it’s about marriage and what’s in the best interest in the institution of marriage and the well-being of children,” Wolfgang said.
Love Makes a Family, a leading organization in the push for same-sex marriage in Connecticut, had just hired Obadiah after graduation to be a religious organizer. On the morning of October 10 he was getting ready for the Supreme Court announcement in Hartford. Javen made his way up from New Haven to join him for the historic occasion.
“That was when it started to become real for me,” said Obadiah, 26.
Javen and Obadiah met at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, and now share an apartment across the street from the school. Obadiah graduated last year and his partner has one more year of school left after this year, but will be transferring to a Lutheran school in Minnesota next year. They plan on having their wedding at Yale’s chapel this May and then will pack up and move together to Minneapolis.
“We’re getting married,” Obadiah said. “We’re actually getting married, and this is real. I can’t tell you what it means to have the state and the civil world to open up and say yes, you really are equal.”
Although October 10 was a special day for the New Haven love-birds, the day may have plucked a higher chord in the hearts and minds of other same-sex couples – the couples that have waited for decades.
Anne Stanback, executive director of Love Makes a Family, had been with her partner Charlotte for over 25 years before they finally tied the knot in a private ceremony on Valentine’s Day this February.
“It is really amazing how quickly everything has changed,” Stanback said. The Supreme Court decision was monumental for Stanback and Love Makes a Family. “It was absolutely incredible. The expression on people’s faces…it was just a wonderful day.”
Although the poll numbers may suggest that public support in Connecticut is on the rise for same-sex marriage, Wolfgang doesn’t think it is a fair indicator.
“I don’t think (the polls) tell the whole story,” Wolfgang said. He pointed to 2008 polls in California prior to the vote on Proposition 8, a ballot proposition that would add an amendment to the state constitution that would ban same-sex marriage. Proposition 8 passed, eliminating California’s short run as one of only two states to have legalized same-sex marriage.
“The only poll that matters is the one of election day,” Wolfgang said.
“I think Vermont is the shame of the country after what they did,” Wolfgang said, referring to how they became the first of the same-sex marriage states to legalize it through a legislative process instead of through the courts. “It’s bad for the country.”
Wolfgang’s Institute colleague Eric Thompson also contends that social scientists have proven that children have a greater chance at success with a mother and a father in the household.
“I think it damages the family and the social order it represents,” Thompson said. “I do have religious objections to it as well.”
Thompson and Wolfgang both say that homosexuality doesn’t play a role in their fight against the “plight” of marriage.
“The media is making homosexuality more of an issue than it is,” Thompson said. “I don’t think that it’s as much about homosexuality as it is marriage.”
Stanback couldn’t agree less.
“It is really disingenuous for Peter (Wolfgang) to say their work is not about homosexuality,” she said. “It has everything to do with homosexuality. We are the one group of people that (Wolfgang) is trying to exclude from being able to marry.”
Closing the Door
Love Makes a Family will be shutting down at the end of the year, and Stanback will be stepping down this June. She said that their main objective, same-sex marriage has been completed.
“We’ve won,” Stanback said. “We are almost done with policy work. Could we continue? Yes, but it wouldn’t be the responsible decision for our donors and the community.”
For the next eight months the organization will figure out where to effectively move their volunteers according to which organizations need help.
Wolfgang and the Institute aren’t quite sure the gay-rights activist group is closing on their own accord. They believe that their closing has more to do with the lack of funding they may be receiving from outside organizations that he says were giving them a lot of money leading up tho the Supreme Court decision, and how have moved on to other states. Wolfgang called it a “hit and run” operation.
The Institute is eyeing any chance to one-day reverse the same-sex marriage ruling, even if it may take a long time.
“It’s not going to happen right away,” Wolfgang said. “What we need to do in the short-term, like the pro-life movement immediately after Roe v. Wade in 1973, is work to limit the damage wherever we can.”
Last week marked another defeat for the Institute when Gov. Jodi Rell signed Senate Bill 899, which incorporates the Supreme Court’s decision on the Kerrigan case into the state’s statutes. The bill was passed by the Senate and the House, but only after an amendment was added that protects religious groups who oppose same-sex marriage.
Two weeks earlier the Institute staged a rally consisting of 100-plus people outside of the capitol building in opposition of the bill, saying that the bill would lead to “homosexuality being taught in the schools,” according to Wolfgang.
The Institute is also eyeing the 2010 election to elect new legislators that share similar values.
Stanback is unsure of her future after she steps down from her position at Love Makes a Family, but she is certain of one thing.
“We will win (equal rights) across the country in one generation,” she said.