Debate tackles marriage definition
As the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was preparing to hand over its decision on California’s Proposition VIII, two people on opposing sides of the gay marriage issue went head-to-head Tuesday inside the University of Houston Law Center.
The debate, “Defining Marriage,” was sponsored by Outlaw and the Federalist Society at UH.
In an email to The Daily Cougar, representatives of the Federalist Society said that although the Society is composed of conservatives and libertarians, it hosts debates on a variety of issues in order to address both sides of the conservative and liberal arguments.
“The best legal minds are sharpened by full debate on important subjects, but the conservative message is often mischaracterized or completely ignored in law school classrooms,” said Keith Strahan, president of the UH chapter of the Federalist Society who also served as the moderator. “So we host debates so that law students can be exposed to rigorous and dynamic analysis of both sides of complex legal issues.”
Houston attorney Mitchell Katine, local counsel in Lawrence v. Texas — the landmark Supreme Court case that overturned sodomy laws in the US in 2003 — presented his case for legalizing gay marriage.
Jennifer Morse, founder of the Ruth Institute, a project of the National Organization for Marriage Education Fund, presented her case on maintaining traditional marriage.
Morse opened the debate by presenting a case that focused on defining marriage as a “pre-political naturally occurring reality that can be defended with rational arguments.”
Morse discussed the public and private purposes of children as a major factor of marriage — stating that the primary purpose is to attach the mother and father to each other and their children.
“Same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples are situated differently with respect to this purpose,” Morse said.
In the 2010 decision by US District Court Judge Vaughn Walker that first struck down Proposition VIII, the purpose making children had to be removed to make marriage a gender-neutral institution, Morse said.
This gender-neutrality results, Morse said, in biology not being the “normal” and default factor that determines paternity. Presumption of paternity is now being replaced by a presumption of parentage, which is another gender-neutral concept.
Morse closed by stating marriage is “something that belongs to the people, and something that is created prior to the state and that the state has no right to interfere with.”
Katine opened his argument by stating that many people never imagined having the opportunity to marry their partners, but that society and the law are moving quickly.
On a personal note, Katine presented a photo of the two children he and his partner adopted. He said he asked his children what marriage meant to them. His son replied, “Marriage makes you proud to be a family.” His daughter replied, “Marriage makes a family permanent.”
Katine took these answers and made them the base of his argument of the equality of different sexual orientations. He used the US Constitution and landmark Supreme Court cases to support his case.
One of the cases that Katine referenced was Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 case that struck down miscegenation laws in the US. Katine said some of the reasons used by 17 states to defend laws against interracial marriages were also based on God and the Bible.
“If you study what happened in the Loving case and what is being said about gay and lesbian people having the right to marriage, you will see parallels. You will see very similar arguments regarding God and, of course, the Bible.”
Katine, after quoting the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court in the Loving decision, stated that the decision, along with the Lawrence decision in which he had a hand, would be at the heart of the Supreme Court’s future decision that will say, “Gender will not be a prohibition to marriage.”
Mitchell closed by stating he believed that he would see same-sex marriage permitted here in his lifetime and, at that point, “my son would be able to be proud of his family, and my daughter would feel like her family is permanent.”
Beverly McPhail, the director of the Women’s Resource Center, said she was pleased to see a packed room, stating debates are of great importance to the community.
“In a top research university, we should be open to hearing different opinions from our own and keep an open mind so students can learn and grow throughout their time at UH,” McPhail said. “Too often people are only listening to radio and television news and editorial shows that present information through their ideological lens, so listening to both sides can be refreshing and educational.”
In a dramatic moment during the debate, it was announced that the Ninth Circuit had struck down Proposition VIII as unconstitutional. Katine commented that he was surprised by the decision but the issue was now on track to reach the Supreme Court within one or two years.