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Debate examines Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage

| Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Eight months after the landmark Supreme Court ruling Obergefell v. Hodges, which decided same-sex couples had the fundamental right to marry, the debate over the decision is still going. As part of this ongoing discussion, the Tocqueville Program and BridgeND sponsored a debate between Stephen Macedo, a professor at Princeton who defends the ruling, and Ryan Anderson, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, on Tuesday night.

Macedo, author of “Just Married: Same-Sex Couples, Monogamy and the Future of Marriage,” spoke first in the Lincoln-Douglas format debate.

“Public opinion on gay rights and same-sex marriage, specifically, have shifted astonishingly over the last 15 years and even more so over the last 20 or 30 years,” he said. “Americans in their 50s and older didn’t know any openly gay people when they were younger — I certainly didn’t. But as Americans came out of the closet, partly in response to the AIDS epidemic, and Americans began to come to grips with the fact that homosexuality is not a lifestyle choice but rather a settled and deep-seeded feature of one’s personality.”

Stephen Macedo speaks in defense of same-sex marriage Tuesday night. Macedo took part in a debate with Ryan Anderson, who argued same-sex marriage leads to the deterioration of American families.Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer

Stephen Macedo speaks in defense of same-sex marriage Tuesday night. Macedo took part in a debate with Ryan Anderson, who argued same-sex marriage leads to the deterioration of American families.

Only a quarter of Americans supported same-sex marriage 20 years ago, but today, around two-thirds of the population is in favor of it, according to Macedo.

There is a difference, Macedo said, between the sacrament of marriage and civil marriage and how they combine to form the public meaning of marriage.

“People want to get married, not just because it’s a matter of private commitment to another person, but because they want it to be recognized that they’ve entered into this public commitment,” he said. “The law facilitates this recognition. You wear a ring — it’s very public. It’s extremely private and very public to enter this sort of commitment, and it makes the understanding known in society.”

According to Macedo, the opposing view of same-sex marriage is centered on the possibility of children, disqualifying same-sex marriage.

“The general argument, at its core, is that sexual intercourse between a man and a woman is the ‘sine qua non’ of marriage, even if, owing to the sterility to one or both partners, procreation is impossible,” he said. “It’s on this basis that Ryan [Anderson] and his coauthors [of “What is Marriage?,” Robert George and Sherif Girgis] argue that gay couples are not denied a right to marriage — rather, they’re ineligible for marriage by nature.”

While he said he acknowledged some legitimate points in Anderson’s argument against same-sex marriage, Macedo said these concerns are not enough to justify using them as the basis for law.

“I think the question is whether it’s appropriate in a religiously diverse society to make one particular ideal of marriage — and I think it’s a very respectable ideal of marriage — the basis for the law of marriage so that it applies to everyone within this religiously diverse society,” he said.

In Anderson’s response, he said his opposition to same-sex marriage is based on the unknown consequences it could have on the American family and the deterioration of marriage in the United States. According to him, more than half of the children in America’s two largest minority groups — Latino and African American — are born out of wedlock, another sign of a deteriorating state.

“Gays and lesbians are not to blame for the breakdown of the American family,” he said. “They’re not to blame for the increase of nonmarital childbearing — they’re not the ones creating children outside of marriage. I do want to suggest that the vision of marriage and human sexuality that is to blame, a liberal ideology, is the vision of marriage that has largely fueled the public discourse for the past decade, and now that it’s enshrined in law, it will further the deterioration of marriage in the United States.”

This “vision of marriage,” Anderson said, has convinced people that love and consent between adults are enough to justify a marriage.

“Professor Macedo said it was principles of ‘liberty, equality and justice’ that propelled the Supreme Court’s decision, and he thinks it rightly was decided to redefine marriage in all 50 states and to say the Constitution requires it,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything in the Constitution that tells us what sort of consenting adult relationship is a marital relationship.”

Anderson said, using Macedo’s own logic, the legalization of non-monogamous marriages should also be covered — Macedo is not in favor of legalizing these types of marriages.

“This is where I don’t think we’ve heard enough from same-sex proponents, about why they’d limit it to just two people in a committed relationship. Increasingly, if you look at the academic and popular literature, they’re arguing that there is no reason to limit it as such. … All I’m going to say about this [non-monogamous marriages] is that it directly undercuts the state being in the marriage business in the first place.”

The government is only involved in the marriage business because of the consequences marriages and families have on American society, Anderson said.

“The state’s not in the marriage business because it’s a sucker for your love life,” he said. “The state’s not in the marriage business because it’s concerned about the romance of consenting adults. The state’s in the marriage business because sexual unions between men and women can result in children, and children deserve mothers and fathers. Governments try to get men and women to commit permanently and exclusively to one another and fulfill their obligations to their kids. When this doesn’t happen, social costs run high.”

Anderson also said the legalization of same-sex marriage has had consequences for religious freedom, specifically for those whose faith doesn’t support it.

“There are a number of stories of bakers, florists, photographers — people of faith who have no problem serving gays and lesbians, no problem employing gays and lesbians, but they do have a problem celebrating a same-sex wedding because they believe that would be using their God-given artistic gifts and talents for something against their beliefs — they have been fined in both their professional and personal live,” he said.

In his final rebuttal, Macedo said while there are problems with the American perception of marriage, same-sex marriage should not be one of the major concerns.

“If we want to strengthen marriage the best way to do it is to get past the argument of same-sex marriage,” he said. “The real crisis of marriage in this country is a class-based marriage … that points to a widening economic gap. It seems to me the debate of same-sex marriage is a distraction from this issue. The politicization of marriage is turning some young people off of it altogether.”

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About Megan Valley

Megan Valley was Assistant Managing Editor for The Observer. She majored in English and the Program of Liberal Studies and hailed from Flushing, Michigan.

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