The UCSB Anscombe Society, an organization advocating against same-sex marriage, hosted a debate titled “After Obergefell: The Impact on Marriage and Religious Liberty” Thursday night in the Psychology building.
The debate focused on Obergefell v. Hodges, the June 2015 Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in the United States. Dr. Ryan T. Anderson and UCSB professor of philosophy Dr. Quentin Gee argued the deeper issues of same-sex marriage, such as religion, the definition of marriage and social equality.
Gee, who advocated in favor of the recent ruling, said marriage is an institution that is constantly changing and should be open to all couples.
“Marriage is something that is generally defined by the society that we live in, and it changes,” Gee said. “The civil institution of marriage has undergone a number of transformational shifts. People should come to realize that the civil institution of marriage is something that should be expanded to same-sex couples.”
Gee said the idea of marriage is not a “biological feature of humans,” but rather dynamic and culturally constructed.
“Marriage is something that humans together collectively define in a particular way,” Gee said. “We’re expanding this notion that marriage is this idea of freedom of the individual to choose these relationships of mutual support between two people.”
Gee said marriage is a “social institution” and focused his argument on the idea that marriage is not strictly for procreational purposes.
“We’re changing our conception of marriage,” Gee said. “The conception of marriage has changed to what we might call a companionate sense. When you marry somebody, you are taking on an additional life partner, a companion.”
According to Gee, religion cannot be used as a legitimate excuse to refuse same-sex marriage and said if it is used, it is on the basis of discrimination.
“There’s no clear reason to exclude same-sex couples [from marriage]. They can offer elements of companionship,” Gee said. “I don’t see any real, compelling reason, and if there is no compelling reason, it’s seems to be more or less a prejudice.”
Gee said while religion is important to society, it cannot be used to enforce a law that denies rights to same-sex couples.
“You cannot use religious reasons to justify or create social institutions or social contracts in ways to suit your religious needs,” Gee said. “Everyone ought to respect religion and appreciate the things it brings to our lives, but at the same time, we cannot impose it. And laws impose.”
According to Gee, there is no valid reason to deny same-sex couples the right to wed in any state, and said he believes religion cannot justify the rejection of their marriage.
“There really isn’t a clear, justifiable reason to limit [marriage] to between a man and a woman alone,” Gee said. “I would say that you cannot use religious motivations for limiting the institution of marriage to simply a man and a woman.”
Dr. Ryan T. Anderson, opponent to the Supreme Court ruling, said he supports a “conjugal vision of marriage” which presents men and women as pairs to unite as one person.
“Marriage is primarily a comprehensive union of sexual complementary spouses where man and a woman unite as one flesh,” Anderson said. “The act that makes them one flesh has the capacity to create new life, and that relationship of husband and wife has the capacity to create a child with both a mother and a father.”
According to Anderson, since the U.S. Constitution does not mention what concept of marriage is correct, it is up to citizens to create laws on how marriages should be governed.
“The 14th Amendment to the Constitution is silent to which one of those visions is true or good or the best,” Anderson said. “And where the Constitution is silent, we the people retain constitutional authority to make laws.”
Anderson said the flaw in the Supreme Court ruling was that it bypassed constitutional laws by enacting its own opinion on the nation.
“It imposed that philosophy of marriage on the entire nation under the guise of constitutional law,” Anderson said. “There is no constitutional justification whatsoever by five unelected judges to say, ‘our preferred philosophy of marriage is now required of all fifty states simply because of our fiat.’”
According to Anderson, the Supreme Court violated the Constitution and said this should be a concern for all informed Americans.
If you care about constitutional, democratic self-governance, you have to care about the judicial usurpation of politics, which is what took place in Obergefell,” Anderson said.
Anderson disputed Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s reasoning for the ruling and said the future of marriage will constantly be changed to suit different needs.
“If you think about the actual arguments that Justice Kennedy made to justify his philosophy of marriage, and simply think though, what does it mean for the future of marriage? It means that marriage will simply be redefined as contract law,” Anderson said.
According to Anderson, Justice Kennedy’s ruling will cause marriage to be continuously redefined in the future.
“What’s the legal principle for monogamy?” Anderson said. “What prevents future redefinitions of marriage?”
Anderson said the Obergefell ruling has already affected religiously based businesses and charity organizations that refuse to support the new law.
“We’ve already seen in jurisdictions where marriages have been redefined where faith-based adoption agencies have been shut down, where schools are beginning to lose their accreditation,” Anderson said. “We’ve seen bakers, florists, photographers penalized not because they said they refuse to serve gay people; their only objection was to baking the same-sex wedding cake or doing the alter flowers for a same-sex marriage.”
Anderson told the story of a florist who refused to create an arrangement for a same-sex wedding. The women was sued by her state, lost the first round of her legal battles and has appealed to an appellate court.
“She should have a constitutional right after Obergefell not to be forced to violate her beliefs,” Anderson said. “The Supreme Court says same-sex couple have a right to get marriage, but that doesn’t place a duty upon anyone else to help celebrate that way.”
Anderson said he hopes there will be a way to discuss the issue and reach a conclusion in a respectful manner.
“How do we agree to disagree about marriage without persecuting one another, without using the government as a blunt force to impose our values on others?” Anderson said.
Second-year history and psychology double major Iridian Magallon said before the debate, she was interested to see how Anderson would argue against same-sex marriage without relying on religion.
“I was really curious as to what the arguments [Anderson] would propose, because I always thought the main argument against same sex marriage was religion,” Magallon said. “So I was curious how he was going to argue without using religion.”
Magallon said she was surprised that Anderson argued his opinion well, but ultimately agreed with Professor Gee.
“It was interesting that he was able to argue that side pretty well,” Magallon said. “[In the end], I was still on [Gee’s] side.”
According to second-year economics and accounting major Andrew Gates, the Supreme Court ruling was unconstitutional and denied state’s rights.
“The decision of Obergefell was an issue of state’s rights, and I do believe the Supreme Court was engaging in judicial fiat or judicial activism, in that they were not concerned about what the Constitution said about marriage, but rather what they believed,” Gates said. “The issue is that do the states have the right to choose should same-sex marriage be allowed, and I fully believe they should.”
Gates said he was originally opposed to the Obergefell ruling and believes the Supreme Court was not justified in its action because the federal government involved itself in a state issue.
“I was against the Supreme Court ruling, and I’m still against it,” Gates said. “Personally, I don’t have any problem with the state legalizing same sex marriage, but the issue is, ‘do you believe in self-governance in a constitutional republic?’ If you do, you would recognize the state right to define marriage is the state’s right, and the federal government should not interfere.”