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Panel debates gay marriage

Laird, Katie | Thursday, February 26, 2004

A panel discussion on the highly controversial issue of same-sex marriages was held Wednesday evening at the Eck Visitor’s Center just one day after President Bush announced his goal to create an amendment banning gay marriage in the United States.

The debate, titled “The Future of Marriage: Should Sexual Orientation Matter? Is Marriage the Government’s Business?” attracted a large crowd to the Eck Visitor’s Auditorium while panelists discussed the validation of legal endorsement for marriage in America. Moderated by Notre Dame Law Professor Gerard Bradley, the panel included Alan Sears, Andrew Koppelman and Paul Griffiths. Each member gave 20-minute dialogues outlining their opinions on the issue.

Sears, who is President, CEO and General Counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund, began his discussion by noting that it was Ash Wednesday, a day of penitence and an apt time for a debate to take place.

“This is a critical issue in our culture,” he said.

Sears made various references to the Catholic teachings to substantiate his support for maintaining the current state of marriage.

“[God] made the male and female, and the two shall be become one,” he said. “Law regulates marriage. It does not create it … God himself is the author of marriage,” Sears said.

Sears defended his opposition of same-sex marriages by arguing that their legalization would result in the deconstruction of marriage.

“It’s like trying to draw a square circle,” Sears said.

He explained that homosexual conduct is harmful to society and that same-sex marriages will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Same sex marriage is contrary to the definition of structure in the constitution … [to create] a society with stable, nurturing context for children,” he said.

Andy Koppelman, a professor of Law and Political Science at Northwestern Law School who supports same-sex marriages, argued that there are really two issues in this debate: a religious one and a secular one.

Koppelman made the analogy that allowing a same-sex marriage is like making a business proposal: How can we maximize efficiency and satisfy people’s preferences while protecting the third party of children, he asked.

“It is good for children to grow up in stable, loving households … There is no evidence that children raised by same-sex couples are worse off than heterosexual couples,” Koppelman said. “Religious and secular can be kept apart. Americans tend to run them together … When the word ‘marriage’ is used, passions run very high.”

A recent poll showed that 64 percent of Protestants and 50 percent of Catholics disapprove of state recognition of same-sex marriages, Koppelman said. He explained that this is because Protestants generally view their sacrament through the civil union while Catholics are more concerned with the sacrament of marriage.

Koppelman argued that gays and lesbians, like heterosexuals, want to find satisfaction of marriage.

“Gays don’t want second class status,” he said. “This is a stigma of exclusion that the constitution prohibits.”

Koppelman explains the importance of a generational gap concerning this issue. While most Americans oppose same-sex marriages, many 18- to 29-year-olds are in favor of it.

“Conservatives are fighting a losing battle,” Koppelman said.

Paul Griffiths, the chair in Catholic Studies at the University of Illinois Chicago, argued that America was a “pagan” society that must exercise prudence when it comes to homosexual marriages.

Griffiths presented his thesis that the Church should begin to disentangle its practice of sacramental marriage from civil law governing sexual relationships.

An intimate relation between civil law and sacramental marriage is not possible, he said. Griffiths defined the sacrament of marriage in terms of Catholic doctrine, describing the purpose of marriage as being the unity of man and wife, having children and creating a mini-relationship between Christ and the Church on earth.

“Marriage is between man and woman,” he said. “It is incoherent to suggest otherwise … Marriage is not a contract. Nothing that is a sacrament is a contract,” Griffiths said.

He further argued that the idea of fidelity and commitment in marriage is no longer the norm in the United States.

“The norm is through and through pagan,” he said.

Wednesday night’s discussion was hosted by the Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics and Public Policy and the Thomas White Center on Law and Government.