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Boston College may be a Catholic school, but that does not mean it was willing to accept “The Case Against Gay Marriage.” The event, which featured a speaker defending traditional marriage, was arranged by the St. Thomas More Society on Sept. 26.
The hype surrounding the controversial event was so palpable that arriving to the overflowing basement in Cushing didn’t faze the entrants. The event, beginning promptly at its 7:30 slot, promised to be livelier than the average speaker on campus.
With students sporting “Support Love” shirts interspersed with Jesuits, cameramen, local adults and other BC students, it seemed unlikely the night would end in agreement, although it did at least end in peace.
Ryan T. Anderson was the man about to lay out the “case,” which is perhaps more accurately a defense of opposite-sex, monogamous, reproductive marriage than a case against gay marriage specifically.
Anderson is a scholar who writes about marriage and religious liberty and works for The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington.
Having arrived at the podium, he appeared calm and even expressed excitement to be on campus. “It's wonderful being at a college…because it’s not going to be a shouting match. We’re not going to talk over each other and we’re not going to call each other names,” he said.
Anderson continued to explain his argument that marriage can only be between a woman and a man, which is not made on theological or political grounds. “My co-author and I are philosophers,” he explained.
The crux of Anderson’s argument rests on two essential tenets. Firstly, he defines marriage as an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman that can be consummated through “bodily unity” with the ultimate end of “creating and rearing new life."
The second tenet is that the state’s involvement in defining and recognizing marriage comes from its interest in ensuring the well being of the children produced by married couples. Since the government has the duty of protecting its youth, Anderson argues, it necessarily takes a stance on defining and legitimating marriage as an institution through which children are produced.
The ultimate goal of marriage, according to Anderson, is “to protect the rights and needs of children rather than the desires of adults.” In this context, Anderson argues that married, opposite-sex couples have historically provided their children with more stable and financially secure lives than any other familial arrangement.
The half-hour speech was interrupted only by a mandate from BCPD requiring the overflowing audience to move to the larger venue of McGuinn 121. The tumultuous move released the anxiety of the audience a bit, but tensions quickly reappeared as students literally jumped out of their seats to ask questions of the speaker.
For most students, it was clear that Anderson’s argument didn’t go down so easily. Emotionally charged questions about the difficulties of life for gay parents and Anderson’s right to speak on the subject being a heterosexual male himself were met with supportive applause.
“I am assuming you are not gay,” said Jake Robinson, A&S ’16, to a round of laughter and applause from the crowd.
“I’m not talking about homosexuality, I’m talking about marriage,” Anderson replied simply. Given the context of the debate and the repercussions of denying legal rights to gay parents, Anderson was met at times with open laughter, sighs and eye-rolling from the crowd.
Statements such as “I want to have the laws reflect the truth about what marriage is” were met with particularly visceral reactions from the audience.
The official event concluded after 12 questions, although the discussion continued with an unbounded energy in and outside the lecture hall. Anderson promised to stay in McGuinn answering questions for the truly passionate, while GLC leaders held a de-briefing event upstairs.
Although it seems few people were convinced by Anderson’s perspective, many students appreciated the conflicting perspective.
“The speaker had well-reasoned arguments but BC students had well-thought out questions. It was a good interchange. With such heated issues, it can be easy to lose that,” said Mary, A&S ‘17.
Even the young man who made the bold supposition about Anderson’s sexual orientation saw value in the event. “I am glad this happened…it’s refreshing to hear a new point of view,” said Robinson. “I applaud him for attempting to rationalize his beliefs not using religion.”
Other students were more openly critical of Anderson’s arguments.
“All of the statistics he quoted were pulled from studies about single parents, not about two parent households, not about same-sex couples,” said Louis Fantini, A&S ‘14. “I found that part to be blatantly dishonest.”
Grace Chu, A&S '17, felt that even the opportunity to ask Anderson a question during the event resulted in little clarity. “I just feel like sometimes he deflects,” she said. “It's good that he made all these arguments, and he actually has evidence. I don’t agree with the evidence, but he still made an effort to gather what he thinks the proof is.”
On the fifth floor of McGuinn, GLC leaders and other students took their time to digest the discussion. Although many of them expressed feeling overwhelmed, the evening was not without a silver lining.
“One good thing is that this event made the LGBTQ community realize it has a lot of allies,” said a student who would like to remain anonymous. “It felt nice to not be the minority.”
Images via Alex Krowiak/Gavel Media.