April 29, 2004

Students Debate Same-Sex Marriage

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The Cornell Political Coalition brought the nation-wide discussion on gay marriage to Goldwin Smith yesterday afternoon for an hour-long student debate.

Erica Kagan ’05, LGBT liaison to the S.A. and president of Direct Action to Stop Homophobia, argued in favor of legalizing same-sex marriages, while Mike Lepage ’05, chair of the Cornell College Republicans, argued against it. Christina Sobiloff ’06, vice president of the CPC, moderated.

Although the debate focused on whether or not to allow gay marriage, both sides connected the topic to other issues. The argument touched on the civil rights movement, parents’ roles in raising children, the separation of church and state and the extent to which tradition should be considered in public policy.

Kagan put the issue in the context of a larger civil rights movement, saying that “legalizing same-sex marriage is a perfect opportunity for our government to involve itself in expanding basic civil rights.”

According to Kagan, the main focus of the debate is that same-sex couples are not granted the rights available to all other citizens.

To Lepage, however, same-sex unions represent a different relationship than heterosexual unions, whose purpose he said was primarily reproductive in nature. He argued that this difference is one of the reasons that same-sex couples should not have the same marriage rights as heterosexuals.

“Today, our tax system and other aspects of public policy are built to accommodate traditional families. Specifically, preferential and benefits treatment is justified because these couples are presumably raising children and need the extra support,” Lepage said.

Following a brief rebuttal, Sobiloff opened the floor for a question-and-answer session. Audience members directed questions at both Kagan and Lepage, although more were targeted towards Lepage. Asked how blurred lines between gender roles affect his argument concerning the need for one man and one woman to raise a child, Lepage said that the traditional arrangement has stood the test of time.

“I’m just going on the way it’s been done for the last thousand or two [years],” Lepage answered. “I’m just really, really hesitant to change something that has worked for such a long time.”

CPC member Matthew Galante ’07 suggested that because this issue is so important, it should be debated for much longer — as long as 100 years — before public policy changes the definition of marriage. Kagan responded that not everyone agrees that marriage is as fundamental a part of society.

“I think people have been discussing it for a very long time, whether in the public light or not, just as like with any other civil liberties movement,” she added.

Lepage agreed with the question’s point. He said that past attempts to “engineer human society,” such as communism, have often failed dramatically.

The audience seemed to think the debate was conducted well, but proponents of both sides felt that some aspects of the issue were not discussed adequately.

“I would have liked to see a little bit more talk of religious objections to gay marriage, because I think that religion has been an important component of our society,” Galante said.

He said, however, that overall the debate was well-conducted and informed, and added that he is in favor of civil unions for same-sex couples.

Lara Chausow ’05 said that she thought the debate was interesting, but expressed suspicion at some statistics Lepage had mentioned regarding same-sex couples and children.

“If it is true — which I doubt — that only 20 percent of gay couples have kids, one has to wonder if that is not because many states do not allow unmarried couples to adopt, and if allowing them to get married would create an opportunity for more adoptions and increase that percentage,” she said.

Sobiloff was pleased with the debate. She said that both debaters were very well-informed and mature in handling the topic. She also said she was pleased that the audience was civil during the open discussion even though she felt it was a little biased towards the left, a bias which she said reflects Cornell’s student body.

“We always try to invite the other side of the issue when it’s biased to one side.” she said, adding that it is important to consider all of the issue’s aspects.

Archived article by Yuval Shavit
Sun Staff Writer