In 2012, 61 percent of North Carolina voters voted to add the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman to our state constitution. This vote was decades in the making, and the primary champion of this fight was State Senator James Forrester, who served in the North Carolina Senate from 1991 until his passing in 2011.
NC Family was blessed to work with Senator Forrester for many years, and we are pleased to welcome his wife, Mary Frances Forrester, to this week’s Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast. Mary Frances joins us to discuss her new book about her husband, entitled For Such a Time as This: The Life and Legacy of Senator James Forrester and His Fight for Marriage in North Carolina.
Senator Forrester began his fight for marriage in 1996, when Hawaii began its push for legalizing same-sex marriage. “He felt he really needed to stand for what was right,” says Mary Frances. “He felt that marriage was a covenant created by God for man, and it is not to be treated lightly.”
While North Carolina passed its marriage amendment in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges overturned this and similar measures in other states by legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. But Mary Frances says that her and her husband’s fight for traditional marriage was not futile. “The truth is the truth, whether or not you opt to believe it. A lie is a lie, whether or not you refuse to accept it. […] We’re not asked to win the culture war; we’re asked to defend our corner.”
“I hope people take away that there is a calling for them, for each person who reads this [book]. And it’s up to us to find what our time is to be, and I hope I have found part of mine in sharing Jim’s life with others.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Mary Frances Forrester discuss her new book on her husband, former North Carolina State Senator James Forrester, and his fight for marriage in North Carolina.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. We have a great show for you today. Having spent well over 20 years as a registered lobbyist in North Carolina, I can attest to the fact that service in public office and especially the pressure cooker environment of the state legislature can bring out the best in some people, and the worst in others. Over the years, we’ve had the great privilege of working with some incredible statesmen and states-women. And we’ve also seen our share of tragic stories and human failures.
But today we’re going to be talking about one of North Carolina’s great statesmen. One of the most important and notable debates in North Carolina’s recent history was over the definition of marriage. As you may recall, 61% of North Carolina voters voted in 2012 to add the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman to our state constitution. Just three years later, our constitutional amendment, along with similar measures in many other states, were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court when it issued its highly controversial ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which thrust same-sex marriage on our nation in 2015.
Now, one of the great leaders and champions throughout the debate over marriage in North Carolina was State Senator Jim Forrester, who served in the State Senate for 20 years from 1991 until his passing in 2011. Well, Senator Forrester’s life is the subject of a new book written by his wife, Mary Frances Forrester, and Rebecca Anthony. We are so grateful to be joined today by Mary Frances to discuss what we can learn from this modern day profile in courage. Mary Frances is the founder and current associate state director of North Carolina’s chapter of Concerned Women for America.
Mary Frances, welcome to Family Policy Matters. It’s great to have you with us today.
MARY FRANCES FORRESTER: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well Mary Frances as we begin, why did you decide to write this book about the life and public service of your husband, Senator Jim Forrester?
MARY FRANCES FORRESTER: It happened that because several legislators approached me after Jim’s demise and said, “You need to tell this story. People need to know this story.” And I said, “I’m not sure I know how to be objective.” I’m a writer, but I usually write about issues, not personal matters, and this is a very personal story. So I said, “I’ll think about it.” Well, in the meantime, one of my friends, Sherry Miller, who helped me with Concerned women for America, North Carolina, she said, “I have someone I want you to meet.” She introduced me to Don Brown, who is an author in Charlotte, very well-known. So he met with me and he said, “You really need to tell this story, and I think you can do it.” And I said, “Well, I need somebody to help me. Maybe you could find me someone who could help me be objective.” And he said, “I’ve got just the person.” And he introduced me to Rebecca Anthony, and it was an instant connection. I love her dearly. Her help was immeasurable; she’s a part of the family. And so I thought, okay, together, we can do this. And we did. We interviewed for 18 months before we even wrote a word, but she just knew how to direct and to choose what would be appropriate and how to make the format. So that’s the story.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, let me mention, as we are at the beginning of our discussion, too the name of your new book, which is For Such a Time as This: The Life and Legacy of Senator James Forrester and His Fight for Marriage in North Carolina. So, Mary Frances, what motivated Senator Forrester to take on this fight for marriage and to remain unwavering in his commitment, despite tremendous opposition and a changing cultural tide?
MARY FRANCES FORRESTER: Well, Jim is a great example of turning adversity into opportunity, if you read the book and you understand his background. So when he began this in 1996—when Hawaii began their fight for same-sex marriage—he saw that this [marriage amendment] was something North Carolina needed because North Carolina was a conservative state. He didn’t realize that he had a tiger by the tail, but he also knew that persistence is a part of grace and courage, and that repetition reduces resistance. So he felt like that he really needed to stand for the right. And so he did the right thing because he thought it was the right thing to do. I don’t think he ever realized it was going to be such a lengthy process.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, and it was a very lengthy process and he remained stalwart throughout that. So Mary Frances, based on where we are now—and I mentioned in my introduction that North Carolina passed the marriage amendment in 2012 only to have it overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court just three years later. And it was not only North Carolina, but of course, many, many other states across our nation who had added the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman in their state constitutions only to have the Supreme Court strike those down. So looking back at all that you and Senator Forrester and others went through in this process—all the time, energy and efforts that were invested in it—do you consider his efforts to have been futile, or do you think there was more to it and it was not a futile effort?
MARY FRANCES FORRESTER: No. Was it futile? No. The truth is the truth, whether or not you opt to believe it. A lie is a lie, whether or not you refused to accept it as a lie. So he felt that marriage was a covenant created by God for man, and it is not to be treated lightly. I think that he understood that in the 5,000 years of Hebrew calendar, that has been one of the bedrock traditional values. And now we have less than 3% of the population who decided that that was not correct, that it was time to change. So I think he saw that. I think he also had the vision to see that repetition does reduce resistance. I don’t think the subject is over; I think it will continue. And so no, it’s not futile. We’re all called. We’re not asked to win the cultural war; we’re asked to defend our corner.
And I certainly think Jim did that. I think his art as a physician prepared him for being able to accept and stand with grace and courage for what he believed. So I saw him as a beacon of light and there were so many good things that he did. We mustn’t forget that he created, to our knowledge, the first health commission for women in the whole United States of America; he fought for the highway patrol and the national guard; and he was esteemed by his peers and colleagues. I remember Jim Gardner, who was Lieutenant governor at the time, on Jim’s first day, said, “He came in here and he began to work as if he’s been here all of his life.” His acumen, his ability as a physician to learn, to assess and simulate information in a hurry, and come up with a prognosis. He was renowned as a diagnostician. So, this was just a part of him. I was impressed by his courage to stand for what he believed. And I saw him as a beacon of light.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, I know so many others did too. Having had the opportunity to work with him for 15 years at the legislature and just to see him operate in that environment, he had the respect and the admiration and the love of so many people there, folks on all sides of the political spectrum, because he was a man who stood for his convictions. Now, Mary Frances, you and Senator Forrester were married for many years. What were some of the keys to maintaining a vibrant and healthy marriage, especially considering all that both of you had going on, looking at the marriage amendment as an example, working together to face some of the controversies that you did.
MARY FRANCES FORRESTER: Well, I knew from an early start. I was amazed at this man’s ingenuity and his integrity. And as far as a marriage for such a long time, I think a sense of humor is good; communication is absolutely something you must have; and you also must have a feeling of partnership. I think there are unrealistic expectations to so many marriages today, And yes, we disagreed at times. Often it was just mostly gender related, but we worked together and we were partners. I think that says it all. He knew that a family was important and he wanted to have a family. And family was the most important thing for both of us and everything he did, he did with that in mind. Also a biblical foundation for a marriage is very important. We were there with that covenant and that commitment.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s a great testimony. So we’re talking with Mary Frances Forrester, who has authored a new book, For Such a Time as This: The Life and Legacy of Senator James Forrester and His Fight for Marriage in North Carolina. So Mary Frances, as we close our conversation today, what do you want people to take away from this book and from the life of your husband, Senator Jim Forrester?
MARY FRANCES FORRESTER: Well, that we’re all called for such a time, and it is up to us to find what that is, but we’re all (as I mentioned) to be lights to others. We’re supposed to love our neighbor and we’re supposed to stand with courage and determination. And I think this is a perfect example of that. We need role models today. Our young people, our young Americans are hungry for role models and he was one. So I hope they take away that there is a calling for them, for each person that reads this. And it’s up to us to find what our time is to be. And I hope that I have found part of mine in sharing his life with others.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, absolutely, and he and you are both just such great examples and are lights in this world. You all have done so much for so many, and we’re so thankful. Mary Frances, we’re just about out of time for our discussion, but before we go, I want to give you an opportunity to let our listeners know they can get a copy of your new book For Such a Time as This: The Life and Legacy of Senator James Forrester and His Fight for Marriage in North Carolina.
MARY FRANCES FORRESTER: All right, well, it’s on Amazon. Most everybody uses Amazon. Now it has a five star rating on Amazon. You can get it at any bookstore. Barnes and Noble. If they don’t have it on the shelf, they can certainly get it for you. We’ve had a lot of book signings and that has been one of the best ways to do it. And Concerned Women for America did endorse the book, as well as Dr. Phillips from the Billy Graham Association. It is easily found. We did so many book signings, but with the pandemic, that has been hard, but you can get it from any bookstore. You can get it from Amazon. I sell out of the back of the car, in my kitchen, but with the pandemic, it has not been quite as easy.
All the legislators did get a copy of the book, compliments of Concerned Women for America. And so I would hope that they could find that book. I hope that our book signings will continue. We’ve had one in Raleigh; we’ve had one in Greenville, one in Wilmington; I’ve been to Florida, to California. So the book is available. It might not be on every bookshelf because of the pandemic and other circumstances with books anymore, but people are reading more since we’ve been inside. So I hope that they will make an effort to get this book and read it. I believe that they will enjoy it. It’s a good read. It has humor. It has love. It has crises. It has everything in a novel; this is just a real story. So I would encourage everyone to read it and share comments with me. They can find me on the website with Concerned Women for America under the State of North Carolina and share their good comments. I’m welcome to them.
JOHN RUSTIN: Great. Well, Mary Frances, thank you. And let me mention that book and encourage our listeners to get a copy of it for yourselves and read it: For Such a Time as This: The Life and Legacy of Senator James Forrester and His Fight for Marriage in North Carolina. And with that, Mary Frances Forrester, I want to thank you so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters, and God bless you.