Common Ground’s plans for a same-sex wedding to occur on campus this semester have come to a standstill after the second attempt resulted in both the minister and the couple backing out of the ceremony. And, for the first time, a Common Ground member is speaking out on Sam Lapin’s decision not to participate in the first ceremony.
According to Maggie Lewis, the group’s ambassador, the wedding ceremony was called off again at the last minute when the minister and couple, without providing a reason, informed the group that they could not make it. But Lewis said it was more than the cancellations that have kept the event from being successful.
“We also had very little support from our student body in general? It helps to have some people there for (an event) to go off and there was very, very little support,” Lewis said.
In addition, Lewis also acknowledged that the visit of Kentucky State Senator Ernesto Scorsone (D-Fayette), an advocate in the court decision overturning Kentucky’s criminalization of sodomy was not well attended. She attributed that to distracted students.
“Unfortunately, our target audience was far more interested in Brother Rick and talking about masturbation (instead of) legislation, which is kind of funny in a very sad way,” Lewis said.
“Brother Rick” is a traveling evangelist who spoke in the University Center plaza, attracting a lot of attention with his messages against homosexuality, premarital sex and other of his perceived societal problems.
She said that Common Ground still has the goal of having a same-sex marriage on campus. But its focus is shifting to supporting pro-gay rights legislation.
The group is focusing on the Freedom to Marry Act and the legislative effort to allow same-sex couples to marry. Providing these equal rights would be more beneficial to gay couples than just domestic partner benefits.
“I do understand wanting domestic partner benefits. I’ve had them before,” Lewis said. However, she added that a better accomplishment would be equal marriage rights.
After providing those comments on behalf of her organization, Lewis spent some time sharing some personal concerns she had as an openly gay student on campus, including her understanding of NKU instructor and a Universal Life Church minister, Sam Lapin’s decision to back out of officiating the same-sex marriage ceremony under University pressure in February.
“This is a very difficult campus to be gay on,” Lewis began. She later noted “when Rev. Sam (Lapin) cancelled, you know, we couldn’t be mad at him because we’ve all felt it. He’s not even gay and he felt it. He’s a respected member of the community and he felt the fear of being in front of everyone.”
In addition, Lewis said she thought this advocacy effort to hold a same-sex marriage on campus may have negatively impacted the organization.
The word “official” was included in advertisements for both planned wedding ceremonies despite Kentucky’s laws that fail to recognize same-sex marriages and make it illegal for a person licensed to marry individuals to do so. It also raised concerns from members of administration, including its Vice President for Legal Affairs and General Counsel, Sara Sidebottom.
“I couldn’t imagine — especially after a Common Ground meeting I sat through where the word ‘official’ was being discussed — that if I were 18 and not really out of the closet, ever coming back,” Lewis said
Lewis also noted that many in her organization feel like NKU treats Common Ground differently.
“I think people are very worried. It’s a very hot issue. I know others in Common Ground feel that we are sometimes treated differently – that we’re still allowed to do our events, but they are very much watched over. I very much doubt that, you know, deans are involved in most fundraisers. I can’t say that for certain,” she said.
University President James Votruba and Vice President for Student Affairs Zebulun Davenport shared concern when the first same-sex marriage ceremony was planned on campus. They worried that it could impact legislation that would prohibit NKU from providing domestic partner benefits to its employees.
“I watched Common Ground try to get their events going. They have to ask more permission than anything I’ve ever seen. There’s nothing that they can do without permission from all kinds of people,” Lewis said.
Lewis also said she was embarrassed that other gay students were unable to participate in Common Ground’s advocacy efforts out of fear.
“It’s rather embarrassing to me that more of our allies came up (to our booth) than those in the gay community,” Lewis said. “That embarrassed me. A lot. That we had more of our allies’ names on our petition because people are afraid to put their name down.”
Lewis said that next year she hopes Common Ground can make different efforts.
“I’m hoping that we can balance the social with activism,” she said. “So many people aren’t ready to be activists. They’re afraid.”
Editor’s note: Neither Davenport nor Dean of Students Matt Brown were available to respond to Lewis’ claims.