The student weekly of St. Olaf College
Manitou Messenger: Panel presents gay marriage views

Panel presents gay marriage views

By Julie Gunderson
Executive Editor
Friday, May 7, 2004

The hot-button issue of gay marriage has received statewide and national exposure this past year. Political news has also shifted towards discussion of amending both the state and federal constitutions to ban same-sex marriages. As a way of helping to include students in this debate, the political science honor society, Pi Sigma Alpha, held their annual spring forum on gay marriage.

The featured panel at the forum included three speakers: Monica Meyer, the public policy director of OutFront, a Minnesota Gay, Lesbian, Transsexual, or Bisexual (GLTB) organization; Tom Prichard, president of the Minnesota Family Council; and Dale Carpenter, professor at the University of Minnesota specializing in legal issues having to do with sexual orientation. Meyer and Carpenter spoke in support of same-sex marriage, while Prichard argued for traditional marriage.

Meyer spoke first, commenting on her personal upbringing in a large Catholic family.

"Marriage and family to me is a celebration of love and commitment," Meyer said. "It is a personal thing for me, as well as a political, social and civil rights issue."

Meyer talked about the 1,138 legal rights and responsibilities not afforded to gay couples that are granted to married couples. Hospital visitation rights, social security benefits and the right to live in nursing homes with one's partner were just a few of the rights that Meyer mentioned.

Another element of Meyers presentation was the Defense of Marriage Act in Minnesota that passed the House legislation, but has since been killed in the judicial committee of the Senate. The act would define marriage as being between one man and one woman and would allow the state to refuse legally recognized gay marriages.

Meyer expressed her reservations about the act.

"We have to ask ourselves, do we want to write discrimination into our state document as law?" Meyer said

Meyer noted that Minnesota was not the only state struggling with the issue. Currently there are 24 other states proposing legislation that would ban same-sex marriages in their state.

"There is a lot of fear and things that havent been discussed yet in our schools, families and churches," Meyer said. "Weve only just started having this conversation, and a lot of us havent thought about what marriage means."

Speaking in favor of traditional marriage, Prichard spoke about the institution of marriage being fundamentally changed by the allowance of same-sex marriages.

"If you take away the criteria of one man and one woman and try to establish that marriage is just a relationship based on love and commitment, then what is there to limit it?" Prichard said. "Why cant a grandchild marry a grandparent? They are in a loving and committed relationship. What would stop them? There has to be some other criteria that establishes what truly is a marriage, and what is essential to that definition is the fact that marriage is between a man and a woman."

Responding to critics who call the argument against gay marriage discriminatory, Prichard pointed to the fact that many minority leaders such as the Reverend Jesse Jackson disagree with the comparison between gay marriage and the civil rights issue of interracial marriage.

"There is something fundamentally different between a persons skin color and what makes up their sexual orientation," Prichard said.

Prichard also argued that gay marriage advocates are trying to do more than just push for legal rights. Any adult, Prichard pointed out, has the right to get married; it just has to be with someone of the opposite sex.

"What same-sex couples are attempting to do is redefine the institution of marriage, not simply gain access to it," Prichard said.

Carpenter, the last to speak on the panel, acknowledged that in the gay marriage debate, the burden of persuasion is on those who favored same sex marriages.

"There is always going to be a presumption against change," Carpenter said. "Marriage, however, is an institution that has undergone tremendous change and, despite these changes, it has survived."

In his talk, Carpenter raised objection to one of the main arguments against gay marriage, which is that children suffer in same sex households.

Carpenter pointed to problems with the country's current state of marriage ,such as the nearly 50 percent divorce rate and that 30 percent of its children are being born out of wedlock. He used these examples to explain why heterosexual relationships have not created the best environment for child-rearing.

"There are tens of thousands of children right now being raised by same-sex couples. The only difference is that their families are living without the legal rights and recognition that children in straight homes are given," Carpenter said. "Whether or not we chose to allow same-sex marriage, these children will still be raised by same-sex couples."

Pastor Bruce Benson moderated the discussion, held in Science Center 280.

The Manitou Messenger is a student publication of St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn. It is published weekly during the academic year except during vacations, exam periods and interim. The cost for one year's subscription is $45.00. Postage is paid in Northfield, Minnesota. Manitou Messenger
St. Olaf College
1500 St. Olaf Ave.
Northfield, MN 55057-1001