A debate was held discussing whether Oregon should recognize same-sex marriage Nov. 26 in Ice Auditorium. After Oregon voted to approve Measure 36 to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman in 2004, the topic often leads to heated debate.
The debate featured Pamela Karlan, the Kenneth and Montgomery professor of public interest law and co-director of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic at Stanford Law School, and Justin Dyer, assistant professor of political science at the University of Missouri.
Karlan began the debate by stating that yes, she believed Oregon law should recognize same-sex marriage.
“We’re talking about Oregon law,” Karlan said. “I think that’s important to understand that what we’re talking about here is not whether particular religions have to recognize marriages that they don’t want to solemnize.”
She also explained that the decision to recognize same-sex marriages might come before Oregon has the chance to vote again. At the moment, the Supreme Court is being faced with cases dealing with same-sex marriage in California and if the federal government should have to recognize marriages that states recognize, even same-sex marriage.
“I think it’s important to understand what it means to say that the law recognizes marriages,” Karlan said.
Karlan emphasized the idea that the issue during the debate is whether the people of Oregon should democratically recognize marriages, regardless of the sex between the two people in the marriage. In this aspect, she stressed that it is imperative to understand what recognition means in regard to marriage.
“It’s important to understand the consequences of treating a relationship as a marriage versus treating it as something else,” Karlan said.
Since the ’50s, Karlan explained that people have viewed marriage as a romantic relationship between two people. However, she also explained that marriage is more than just romance.
Karlan referred to marriage as an “economic relationship,” as there are many economic benefits that come along with marriage.
Karlan also discussed the importance of marriage law in cases of divorce, as half of marriages in America end in divorce today. The marriage law helps protect the spouse when the marriage dissolves, Karlan said.
Although Oregon does have civil union laws, Karlan explained that it doesn’t provide recognition in all other ways that marriage does. For example, the federal government is forced to recognize marriages but not civil unions.
Karlan also argued that it is difficult to explain to people what exactly a civil union is.
“It doesn’t have the same resonance. It doesn’t tell people the same thing,” Karlan said.
Karlan referenced the Supreme Court’s case, Loving v. Virginia, a case in which an interracial couple went to the Supreme Court after being denied the ability to get married. The Supreme Court struck down the law and allowed interracial marriages to be legalized.
“At the time the Supreme Court struck down that law, Americans were just as divided about interracial marriage as they are today about same-sex marriage,” Karlan said. “It’s about equality.”
Karlan also discussed that marriage is not always about children, a common argument of why marriage should remain restricted to opposite-sex couples. She pointed out that even a few Justices on the Supreme Court have no biological children of their own.
“Marriage is not just about children. It’s also about a life with a spouse,” Karlan said.
In contrast to Karlan’s argument, Dyer began his argument by stating that as someone from Missouri, he felt uncomfortable telling Oregonians that they should vote yes or no on same-sex marriage. Instead, he
wanted to give the audience a few things to think about in regard to same-sex marriage.
“I agree with [Karlan] wholeheartedly, I don’t think this debate is about religion,” Dyer said. “I think primarily the debate is about marriage, and what marriage is.”
Dyer agreed that marriage is changing in American society, and stated that marriage has become something that does not live up to its purpose.
“What we’re saying is not what marriage has become, it’s something that doesn’t fulfill its public purpose well,” Dyer said. “A lot of people on the traditional side have been saying for years that we need a stronger marriage culture, a better marriage culture.”
Since the ’60s, divorce rates have increased, Dyer said. This leads to children growing up in broken households, which Dyer said is an issue in today’s culture.
“Regardless of what happens with this debate, I would like to see marriage strengthened in American society today,” Dyer said. “I think that the logic of same-sex marriage is against that and would lead us to different places.”
Dyer pointed out that the traditional public purpose of marriage is to unite a set of social goods that lead back to legal and social support. Those goods include sex, procreation and childbearing.
Dyer also brought up the idea of same-sex marriage undercutting norms surrounding marriage. About 50 years from now, Dyer believes that people may potentially be debating marriage and monogamy altogether.
To make his point, Dyer brought up the court case Baker v. Nelson in which two men were the first to apply for a marriage license in Minnesota and were denied.
According to Dyer, the dictionary definition of marriage is the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex. Although he said that definitions could change, he stresses that it’s important to understand why that definition was created in the first place.
Dyer went on to say that marriage is a sexual union, and procreation plays a large role in why marriage is between opposite sex.
“When children don’t have moms and dads that are connected to each other, that’s a huge social problem,” Dyer said.
Toward the end of the debate, the two participants were allowed to ask each other questions to further explain their own points.
Karlan began the questions portion by asking Dyer whether he thought it was odd that the main argument against same-sex marriage was that straight men are “rogues” who can’t be trusted to stay around their children, thus marriage provides them a foundation to stay.
“It’s not about who’s worthy and who’s not worthy,” Dyer said. “The case is that straight men are rogues who may not stick around their kids without having good legal and social support. And that might be a good reason why we have marriage, and why it may not apply in the same way to same-sex couples.”
In response, Karlan pointed out that same-sex couples only have children if they both agree on having children, in which case they would be more willing to stay around than “rogue” straight men.
Dyer then asked Karlan why monogamy and sexuality play a part in marriage, referring to the idea that by allowing same-sex marriage today, it may lead to more changes to marriage in the future.
“There’s always the slippery slope argument,” Karlan said. “And I think that you can’t give an answer in the abstract, because where you draw the line is always going to in that sense be artificial. And I think what we can say is that in our culture today, [with] the idea of pair-bonding that is connected with sexual expression, that you can draw the line where we draw it.”
After the debate had ended, the audience had mixed opinions on how the debate had gone.
“The affirmative side was simply brilliant,” sophomore Lindsey Anderson said. “While her opponent struggled to distinguish his position on same-sex marriage, [Karlan] had an aura of unshakable confidence.”
Samantha Sigler can be reached at email@example.com.