Debate on Prop 107
I went to a debate on Prop 107 (the proposed marriage amendment to the Arizona state constitution) last night (Thursday Oct. 26) at the University of Arizona College of Law. I didn't take notes or anything, so this is just from memory. Forgive me for not crediting the five student organizations that hosted as well.
The format was two speakers from each side. Each speaker was given nine and a half minutes to speak, and then after all four had spoken, each side was given two minutes to respond. Afterwards they took questions from the audience written on index cards and handed into the moderator. I was originally considered for one of the anti-107 speakers, but they had asked too many people so I backed out, and I'm very glad I did. Debates, even one as non-confrontational as this one, are not my forte. I can get pretty knee-jerk and defensive (if Unintentional Blogger is reading this, he's smiling and nodding his head right now) and need time to process stuff to come out with an intelligent response, so I would've been a poor choice. The two people who did speak against 107--Cindy Jordan from the "No on 107" campaign and Wayne Yehling from the law firm of DeConcini, McDonald, Yetwin & Lacy--did a fantastic job.
From what I could gather of the audience, most everyone had already made up their minds and were there to support their side and ask questions of the opposing side, so while it was an interesting debate, it may have been an exercise in futility. I'd estimate the makeup of the audience to be maybe 75% opposed to the amendment and 25% in favor of it, which is pretty representative for Pima County. I was a little disappointed in the audience while the first speaker, Monty Stewart from the Marriage Law Foundation, was talking. There were some shocked gasps and some catcalling over some things he said about children being raised by anyone other than married biological parents. To be honest, he did say some really offensive things that had me angry on behalf of my friends who are adoptive parents as much as for my gay friends, but still, I would have preferred a more respectful silence from the audience. It settled down after that, however, and everyone got a chance to speak uninterrupted.
I found Mr. Stewart's speech (when it wasn't offensive and patently false) confusing and rather circular. He talked a lot about "genderless marriage" as opposed to "one man one woman." I think that term is a bit of a misnomer and implies that gender is not important to people who advocate for same-sex marriage. His argument was that if we accept same-sex marriage, it makes all marriages genderless. This was the basis for all his other arguments, so if you reject the basis, which I do, then there's really nowhere else to go with what Mr. Stewart said. Personally, my gender is important to me. I love being a woman and I love that my husband is a man. It is an important part of our marriage. I think it's safe to say for most of the gay couples I know, gender is an important part of their relationship, too. The image I got whenever he said "genderless marriage" (and the image I suspect he was going for) was of pairs of plastic mannequins, the kinds you see in upscale fashion stores that are only vaguely human shaped with no discernable face or difference in shape or anything to distinguish one from another. That's not what anyone is fighting for. What I'm fighting for is for others to have the right to define their own relationships without me imposing my views on them. The idea that extending legal protections, rights and responsibilities to gay couples somehow makes my own marriage "genderless" is something I just can't wrap my mind around. The internet acronym "WTF???" springs to mind.
I don't really remember many specifics of what the other speakers said. Wayne Yehling, a lawyer who practices family law, talked about the legal ramifications and potential hazards of the vague wording of the amendment. Jordan Lorence from the Alliance Defense Fund was more well-spoken than Mr. Stewart and talked about why he believed the amendment would not take away benefits, was necessary to protect marriage from "activist judges," and that gay rights activists don't care about "family variety" (ie kids helping their elderly parents, a friend who is caring for a sick friend, any other relationships that aren't based on sex) just gay marriage. Cindy Jordan talked about how the issue was not about gay marriage since that's already illegal and that it has been upheld in Arizona.
There are several points that kept coming up that I do want to address. One is that the pro-107 speakers kept bringing up the Warren Jeffs polygamy case, asking how supporters of same-sex marriage can argue gay couples should be allowed to marry without extending that right to polygamists like Warren Jeffs. This really frustrated me because it's not comparing apples to apples. Warren Jeffs' crimes are heinous not because he had more than one wife and because he led a church that taught men must have more than one wife, but because the wives in question were mostly children. In fact, the actual charges Jeffs is facing in two states are sexual conduct with minors. That case has absolutely nothing to do with consenting adults. ZERO.
I'd also like to put the ball back in their court. The pro-107 speakers kept referring to a "long history where marriage has always been defined by every culture this way." Actually, for much of that history, marriage looked a lot more like Warren Jeffs' family than a modern American concept of husband, wife, 2.5 kids and a dog. Girls were eligible for marriage once they began menstruating and it was considered normal and common for 30something men to have young teens for brides. So if they really want to argue for that "cross-cultural long history of marriage definition," it seems to me they're on a lot shakier ground decrying Warren Jeffs than those opposed to the marriage amendment are.
Another thing that really bothered me was how Mr. Lorence kept saying gay rights activists only want their gay marriage agenda, not health care benefits for all varieties of families such as siblings caring for each other or a young niece caring for her elderly aunt. I find this argument strange--gay rights activists tend to be fairly liberal and liberals tend to support universal health care. I don't know anyone who is fighting against this amendment who thinks families should be limited to couples who have sex with each other. But that's a completely separate topic. Prop 107 (which was initiated by their side, not ours) is about "relationships that are similar to that of marriage." How is taking benefits away from a committed gay couple going to help any of the non-traditional families he describes? It won't. It will hurt them further by making "married couple" THE standard in "family." So again, it's kind of a misdirection like the "genderless" thing or the polygamist thing.
My other big pet peeve is the whole "judicial activism" thing. 1. Judges in Arizona have already decided to let our Defense of Marriage Act stand. It's a done deal. 2. The amendment is so vaguely worded, it will be up to "activist judges" to determine what exactly it means to "recognize a relationship similar to that of marriage." Does it mean no health care benefits for domestic partners of government employees? Does it mean hospitals cannot treat domestic partners as "family" in terms of hospital visitation and health care power of attorney? Does it mean contracts between couples to protect their property in the event of one's death would be null and void? The truth is no one knows. Those supporting Prop 107 say of course it doesn't mean any of these things, but really, the interpretation will be left up to the same "activist judges" they're so worried about. If they really didn't want it to be up for judicial interpretation, why didn't they choose a more specific wording?
All-in-all, I think there were three out of four good speakers, but even from the good speaker in favor of 107, I found nothing of substance in his arguments. I still don't see where marriage needs "protection" from couples wanting to enter into it. (Cindy Jordan got applause from the audience when Mr. Lorence talked about how married parents are best and she said "So let them get married!" Amen, sister!) I still don't see where anyone should have the right to define for anyone else what their relationship is. I still don't see where taking benefits away from any family helps families. I still don't see where Arizona is in danger of "judicial activists" taking over. I still don't see where their religious freedom is more important than mine. I still don't see where any of this will do one single thing to protect marriage.