UR’s chapter of Amnesty International sponsored a panel discussion on gay marriage Tuesday. The panel offered three different view points.

Senior and President of Amnesty International Jennifer Smith introduced the panel. Approximately 50 community members attended the event.

English Professors Karen Beckman and David Bleich and Reverend Brian Cool each spoke for about 15 minutes and then answered questions from the audience.

Cool, UR’s Director of Chaplaincy Services, representing the Catholic Church’s position on the topic, spoke first.

“It seems quite ironic to see a public discussion about a social issue and all of a sudden the Catholic position is thrown in there,” Cool said. “When there’s a debate about going to war in Iraq, for example, you didn’t hear them grabbing the Pope’s position on war.”

Cool explained that the Church is opposed to gay marriage because Catholic teachings rely on natural law. “The physicality of the human construct is also very important,” he said.

According to Cool, marriage is the foundation of social order. “It’s natural, in many cultures and cross-cultures, that two people, a man and a woman, get together and perpetuate life to continue the creative act of God through the birth of children and they form families,” he said.

Cool offered two reasons for the Church’s position – the “procreative” and “unitive” aspects of marriage. “Marriage is reserved between a man and a woman,” Cool said, noting that gay marriages run contrary to the procreative aspect of the Catholic ideals.

“I have nothing to draw from my resources to understand what their struggles and issues may be,” Cool said of a gay or lesbian couple who would tell Cool that they were intimate and would like to marry. “I have no experience of that – I have no knowledge of that,” Cool says he would respond.

Nonetheless, Cool does believe that homosexuality is a natural orientation. “There is also within the Church a strong desire and a strong commitment to understand the gay experience,” he said. “I think the Church belongs in the debate.”

Beckman spoke in support of gay marriage. “I don’t believe that gay, lesbian or unmarried people should be penalized for not being married,” she said. “There are some significant economic and social disadvantages to being unmarried – you get fewer job benefits for partners with children, you can’t file joint tax returns, you get no estate tax break, you can’t transfer your property to your partner without taxation, if you’re an unmarried driver you’re put in a high-risk category for insurance companies – the economic disadvantages go on and on.”

“I believe that everybody has the right to the same kinds of economic privileges, including allowing gay people to marry – if they want to — if that would enable that end,” she added.

Drawing on the _____ of well-known gay activists, Beckman asked if gay marriage is a worthy political goal, considering other issues pertinent to the gay community, such as HIV, health care, sodomy laws, anti-gay violence, and job discrimination. “What ideological purpose does gay marriage serve?” she asked.

Bleich contributed his view against gay marriage. “The premise of the discussion of gay marriage is that marriage is a good thing,” he said. “To succeed in marriage is a tremendous struggle. To fail at marriage is a tremendous struggle. Maybe something is wrong with the institution.”

He cited the historical origins of marriage from Genesis through the Greeks and the Romans. “Why should we participate in this institution that is likely to demean us?” Bleich asked. “Why bother with this institution when, as Karen [Beckman] pointed out, interest in marriage is waning and other kinds of families are becoming more and more successful?”

Following the talk, panelists answered questions that were submitted on note cards to protect confidentiality of audience members and avoid inflammatory debates.

One question asked the panel to predict if and when gay marriage would be legalized. Beckman responded that he believes it may be legal within the next five years. Cool predicted 50 years.

Next, Cool was asked to explain the Catholic Church’ position on sodomy laws. “All sexual activity finds its fullest expression in the context of marriage,” Cool responded. Bleich jokingly asked Cool, “What about sexual activity that is in the context of no other person?” Cool answered that such activity is against natural law.

When asked their views on adoption, Beckman said that the same standards should apply to gays as do to heterosexuals. Cool said that unless the couple is married they should not adopt.

Another note card asked the panelists if they saw parallels between interracial and gay marriage. Beckman saw economic parallels, and Bleich also acknowledges their similarities. “People have a rigid sense of what marriage is,” Bleich said.

Cool, however, presented a contrary view. “There are no parallels,” he said, explaining that the Catholic Church allows interracial marriage but bans homosexual unions.

Students seemed to enjoy the panel.

“I think it’s something that’s been missing here for a while,” Kathleen Casey, UR alumnus and first year doctoral student here, said of talk about gay rights on campus. “It brings understanding to a lot of people.”

“I think it went fabulously,” Smith said. “I was really impressed with turnout and the breadth of topics.”

Bleich was pleased to have taken part in the event. “Not enough of this appears in the curricula,” he said.

Yunis can be reached at tyunis@campustimes.org.

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