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Theology Thursdays: CNN's Transcript of The Reverend Al Sharpton and The Reverend Jerry Falwell Discussing Gay Marriage on Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees (Aired 11/29/04)

COOPER: A setback today for opponents of gay marriage in Massachusetts. The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal aimed at overturning the state's same-sex marriage law. It's the only state that allows it. That means in Massachusetts, gay couples will likely be able to marry until at least 2006, when voters may have the chance to amend the state's constitution to ban gay marriage but allow civil unions.

Across the country on Election Day earlier this month, 11 states passed anti-gay marriage initiatives, and groups on both sides of the debate are saying the fight is far from over.

Joining us tonight from Lynchburg, Virginia, is the Reverend Jerry Falwell, chancellor of Liberty University. And in New York, former Democratic presidential candidate, the Reverend Al Sharpton.

Gentlemen, appreciate both of you joining us.

Reverend Falwell, let me start off with you. You have said that when we violate the word of God, you said, quote, "we bring the judgment of God upon the culture." Is God going to punish the people of Massachusetts for allowing gay marriages?

REV. JERRY FALWELL, CHANCELLOR, LIBERTY UNIVERSITY: I can only say that Sodom and Gomorra, the story in the Bible, is very real. And Al Sharpton and I are both preachers of the Gospel, we know that account. I do believe the family -- the family has always been for 6,000 years of recorded history one man married to one woman. And the fact that the Supreme Court refused to hear the case today is just increased evidence that we desperately need the federal marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which will forever put out of reach of any court or legislature the definition of the family as one man, one woman.

COOPER: But there are repercussions -- are there repercussions for the people of Massachusetts, for allowing gay marriage in their state?

FALWELL: Well, I think this, that the spiritually unhealthy legalization of a reality, a man married to a man, a woman married to a woman, cannot help but to leave a very bad role model for the children of Massachusetts and...

COOPER: But you don't think God is going to punish them?

FALWELL: Well, I think that that is punishment, when you hurt your children and lead bad role models and lead kids into immorality.

COOPER: Reverend Sharpton, Reverend Falwell said that it makes it all the more important to have a federal marriage amendment. Elizabeth Birch, former head of the Human Rights Campaign, said a couple of months ago this past election, she said, quote, the issue of gay marriage, was quote, "being used as a cheap political shot to really ignite the right wing, all of Jerry Falwell's followers in an election year." Do you believe it was just a cheap political stunt? I mean, do you think President Bush is going to push to get a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage?

REV. AL SHARPTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I absolutely think it was a cheap political stunt, because first of all, President Bush was running for presidency in the executive branch of government, who has little or nothing to do with how marriages are decided, or even determined in this country. So I think he got a lot of Americans off what he, as president, is ordained to do or is supposed to do, and got them arguing about something that really doesn't fall under his influence. He can take a position, but it really has nothing to do with being president.

So in that context, I certainly agree with her.

I also think it's very interesting that this court, that is very conservative -- in many ways have ruled in ways that we didn't agree, including giving Bush the election in 2000, are the ones that said we're not going to interfere in this matter.

I think marriage is a two-pronged thing. We have marriage based on the church and the church has the right to take that position. But you have marriage based on law, and based on law, I think that we do not have the right to tell people that they have to conduct their lives in the way we may believe according to our religion or according to our own sense of values. People have the right, if they're consenting adults, to make decisions even if we believe they're sinful.

COOPER: Reverend Falwell, you in the past of course have equated homosexuality to smoking crack or bestiality. And I understand why you oppose marriage on religious grounds for gays. I guess I'm less clear on your stance on civil -- civil unions. You know, there are a lot of financial legal benefits that heterosexual families get that homosexual ones don't. Is that fair?

FALWELL: Well, back to what my friend Al just said a moment ago. If what he said is so, then we have no right to outlaw polygamy or bestiality or any kind of diverse family form, if in fact the government cannot state what a family is. But you're asking me what now?

COOPER: Well, you just did it there, you equated again homosexuality with bestiality. You didn't make the smoking crack comment.

FALWELL: Well, I think homosexuality can be equated with adultery among heterosexuals. All sex outside of the marriage bond between a man and a woman in scripture -- and I'm a Christian who takes the Bible seriously...

COOPER: But my question is about civil unions.

FALWELL: ... it's a sin, it's wrong. Civil union...

SHARPTON: So can we have a constitutional amendment on adultery?

FALWELL: Well, civil union, whether you call it civil union or call it marriage, if a man is living in a marriage bond with a man or a woman with a woman, or a man with somebody else's wife, or a woman with somebody else's husband, all of that is immorality according to the Bible that Al Sharpton and I both preach.


SHARPTON: But let me say this: There's a lot in that Bible. Are you saying that we ought to have a constitutional amendment on adultery? Should we have a constitutional amendment on more than one marriage? Should we have a constitutional amendment on lying about weapons in Iraq? I mean, let's read the whole Bible, Reverend. Why are we going to take one part of the Bible and make that a constitutional law, and reject the rest of the Bible?

FALWELL: Well, I for one, wish that there were no adultery. I've never maintained that we should invade bedrooms.

SHARPTON: That wasn't the question.

FALWELL: But when you talk about marriage, it's like abortion is a life issue and marriage is a family issue. And those are the two fundamental basic doctrines of a civilized culture. We must give right to life to all, unborn and born, and we must guarantee that a family is forever protected as one man and one woman.

COOPER: But there are a lot of gay families out there, Reverend Falwell, there are a lot of gay families out there. I think there are like a million kids being raised by gay parents who say that if you want to protect families, you know, civil unions will give inheritance rights, will give Social Security, survivor benefits rights to...

FALWELL: Anderson, that's all a red herring. If you want to leave something to your cat, you can do that in your will...

COOPER: It's not a red herring. That's simply not true. It's not true. You know you pay taxes...

FALWELL: Are you telling me that two men living together cannot make a will out, each of them...

COOPER: They can, but they don't have the same survivor benefits and health insurance benefits in many state, in your state. They get taxed more heavily than a straight married couple does.

FALWELL: That's a different subject. We're talking about economically rewarding this behavior. I don't think we should -- while we should not jail adulterers, neither should we financially reward them...

SHARPTON: The fundamental question is...

FALWELL: ...homosexual practices, neither should we reward them financially...

SHARPTON: Can we get to the fundamental question? The fundamental question is whether we are going to say that this society should define marriage based on our belief in the Bible. We now openly say this should be a theocracy. Our concept as Christians that I may agree with you as a Christian but that we have the right to make that constitutional law and the fact that others agree with us, they must live under the law and the definition as we said it. I think that is undemocratic and un-Christian. Jesus didn't force people to live under what we wanted, he gave them the options.

FALWELL: We have had no problem in American history making theft illegal and the Scripture says thou shall not steal. Or making murder illegal. The Bible says thou shall not kill. The fact is that all of regulated society is based on the legislation of morality by consensus.

SHARPTON: But not based on one religion or one denomination's beliefs. Most everyone agrees that stealing is wrong, Reverend. Everyone grease that murder is wrong, Reverend. But everyone doesn't define marriage the way you define it.

FALWELL: Yes, they do. Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, all the major religions, all the major cultures for 6,000 years have defined the family as a man married to a woman.

This transcript appears on CNN.

Thursday, December 9, 2004

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