An outspoken advocate for gay marriage and a lobbyist against it, both former Yale Political Union members, brought their clashing views back to Yale for debate Wednesday night.
Evan Wolfson ’78, founder and executive director of Freedom to Marry, and Maggie Gallagher ’82, former president of the National Organization for Marriage, joined about 250 students and guests in Sudler Hall for a YPU debate titled “Resolved: Same-Sex Couples Should be Allowed to Marry.” After they spoke, students and guests in the audience gave philosophical arguments about the institution of marriage and shared personal anecdotes.
“[Wolfson and Gallagher] have worked against each other in the political sphere for years now,” YPU Speaker Adam Stempel ’11 said prior to the debate. “It will be interesting to see them on stage.”
In her speech, Gallagher made the distinction between “adult relationships,” which she said can be hetero- or homosexual, and marriage, which she said must be heterosexual because children need a mother and a father. She said she thinks heterosexual marriages are a crucial pillar of society.
No matter how many kinds of sexual relationships exist, she said, the definition of marriage should be kept separate.
“Homosexual people don’t make children because somebody looks kind of cute on Saturday night,” Gallagher said.
She said she does not think it should not matter to the children of gay couples whether their parents are married, or in a civil union.
Gallagher said her position is not denying equal rights, because everyone has the right to marry, so long as that marriage is heterosexual. Her argument was met by a mix of hisses and applause from the crowd.
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“It is not discrimination to treat different things differently,” Gallagher said.
But Wolfson argued that denying gay couples the right to marry is discrimination, and that marriage is not fundamentally about procreation but about loving commitment. He added that several scientific studies have shown that the children of gay parents can lead happy, healthy and well-adjusted lives.
“When women began practicing law, there was no new word for lawyer, or change in what a lawyer was,” he said, likening the ongoing campaign for gay marriage to the women’s suffrage movement. “When they were allowed to vote, there was not change in the definition of voters.”
The speakers did not discuss the morality of homosexuality itself. Gallagher said she was making no moral distinction between same-sex and opposite-sex unions.
Both guest speakers presented their positions in 15-minute speeches, then addressed each other in five-minute rebuttals. Then Stempel opened the floor for questions and speeches from students and guests, which spanned both extremes of the political spectrum.
Ken Cornet, a justice of the peace in Washington, Conn. who spoke at the debate, said marriage is about more than the social advantages the government grants.
“Should my vows be ‘Does this penis take this vagina for a bundle of rights? Tax advantages?’” Cornet asked.
Cornet said he has issued marriage licenses to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples, and thinks same-sex commitments are compatible with the universal vows to love, honor and cherish a partner for life.
Al Riccio, a guest speaker from Southern Connecticut State University who identifies as male and transgender, said the work of the National Organization for Marriage has contributed to high suicide rates among LGBTQ teens. Children who are victims of homophobia are now a public health disaster, he said.
“If you’re concerned about children,” Riccio said to Gallagher, “it’s clear you’re only concerned about the straight ones.”
Mitchell Conery ’14, who said he has a transgender, bisexual father, said unconventional marriages damage children, who respond by trying to prove their heterosexuality and gender identity.
This event was the first YPU debate with two guest speakers in over five years, Stempel said.
At Yale, Wolfson was a speaker of the YPU and a member of the Liberal Party, and Gallagher was the chairman of the Party of the Right.
After the event, the political right held a reception in the common room of Timothy Dwight College, and the left headed to Yorkside Pizza.
When the debate ended after 10 p.m., the count among those who remained was 49 for gay marriage, 16 opposed and 7 abstaining.