We all remember that speech Father Himes gives to incoming Eaglets as they sit in Robsham during orientation. You know, that one where he talks about what a university really is; an institution in which people are engaged in sustained conversation. Maybe, like me, you left the auditorium rather unconvinced by his argument. The argument that when it comes to universities, we must focus on growing as whole people and remaining a part of the conversation, because Cura personalis trumps tunnel-visioned career preparation. Nights like last night only prove him right.
What’s the best way to start a conversation? Why, say something provocative, of course. And what’s more provocative than the statement “A Case Against Gay Marriage” sent to the inboxes of thousands of college students? Not much, I’d say.
News of Ryan T. Anderson’s visit to campus instantly sparked discussion and action. After I received an invite to “An Occupation in Opposition of ‘A Case Against Gay Marriage,’” I decided I couldn’t miss out on witnessing what was going to happen. As I talked with friends, heard many opinions, and saw Twitter arguments this past week, my anticipation only grew. Walking into the event last night, I didn’t know what to expect out of the speaker or the student body.
You could feel the energy as you neared Cushing 001. As the event’s 7:30 start time approached, the lecture hall filled up well beyond its 185-person capacity. Students, many clad in Support Love shirts, spilled into the aisles, the floor, and the hallway. Everyone was buzzing, preparing for whatever argument Ryan T. Anderson was going to present and for how fiery the Question and Answer portion of the talk would be.
The buzz eventually settled down as Mr. Anderson was introduced by Rev. Ronald Tacelli, S.J, the faculty advisor for the Saint Thomas More Society. As he took the podium, Anderson outlined what he would discuss. To set as amicable a mood as possible, he noted how a university is unlike the myriad news shows he has appeared on. A university was a better platform for him, because we weren’t going to carry on “a shouting match” or “call each other names” despite the controversial topic. What he was not going to discuss, Anderson said, was morality, sexual orientation, religion, or tradition. Instead, he started by challenging the audience to consider the question, “what do you think marriage is?”
Mr. Anderson spoke for approximately thirty minutes (not counting the time it took to relocate everybody to McGuinn 121 at the BCPD’s insistence around 8pm.) He first focused on what he classified as a philosophical argument, followed by a policy argument. Philosophically, he invoked the Aristotelian method of definition in terms of three aspects; acts, goods and norms. For marriage, the action is a union of hearts, minds, and bodies. The good is the creation and upbringing of a new life, and the norms it demands are monogamy, sexual fidelity, and permanency. Put simply; marriage necessitates the complete union, and a complete union is one that includes heterosexual sex in order for the creation and fostering of new life. This doesn’t leave room for same-sex marriage, he said, in addition to temporary, polygamous, or adulterous marriages. Anderson argued that “redefinitions” of the institution that stray from this one lead to a breakdown of what America has come to value of marriage.
When it came to policy, he asked the question, “why does the government get involved in marriage?” He argued that the government’s job is to promote the public good. In the case of marriage, the public good is best served when children are raised by both a mother and a father. According to statistics that he cited, children raised by both a man and a woman in a stable marriage are less likely to drop out of school, or become another case of teenage pregnancy, or end up in prison. The presence of both a man and a woman is necessary, according to his view, since the roles of mothers and fathers are not interchangeable. Ultimately, “marriage is there to protect the rights and needs of children more so than the desires of adults.” If we remove the male/female aspect of marriage, Anderson argued, then it becomes easy to weaken or remove other aspects of marriage, such as commitment and sexual fidelity.
After Anderson finished his argument, the hour-long Q&A portion began. Questions from students included, Hasn’t marriage been imperfect throughout history? Why pin the deterioration of marriage values on same-sex marriages? I couldn’t help but notice a flow in your argument….if you haven’t been a part of a same-sex marriage, how do you claim to know how that’s like? If studies came out and showed that there was no difference between children raised in same-sex and heterosexual couples, would you change your argument? What about heterosexual couples who are barren, or who choose not to reproduce? Is their marriage still valid? What would you say to those same-sex couples who are denied the legal rights of marriage, such as property inheritance? Following your argument for the interest of children, should there be a certain income level established in order to have children?
These questions, along with many others, incited a lively debate. Needless to say, there was some inevitable tension in the room. Students’ questions were met with cheers, and at times Anderson’s responses were met with either laughter or exasperated sighs. After all, Anderson presented an argument that offended many students. Despite this tension, students were respectful of Anderson, and the questions posed were directed at his argument on an intellectual level. And at 9pm, when the talk ended, he received a round of applause. When Rev. Ronald Tacelli, S.J, took the microphone to conclude, he admitted that he originally “approached this night with some questions in my own mind….I thought the questions [asked by students] would probably be dumb.” After the talk ended, conversations continued. Students were invited to a post-discussion held by GLC, or to stick around and ask Anderson questions more closely.
I think I speak for many when I say that I was impressed by both the questions asked by students and by the all-around respect abounded during such a difficult discussion. Events like these are not easy to sit through. They’re emotional, frustrating, and at times painful. Sometimes no matter how much people argue about issues like same-sex marriage, they are just never going to agree. I have my own opinions about what was presented, but putting those aside, I have to conclude that this talk accomplished exactly what it was meant to do. Not only did it bring students together in an amazing display of solidarity and support for Boston College’s GLTBQ community, but it also inspired intellectual debate, got students excited about discussing the foundations of their beliefs, and explored the implications on those beliefs on society as a whole.
Last week, Boston College was the site of a discussion that needed to be had. It wasn’t all pretty. And in coming days, students and other members of the community will continue to discuss what took place in the lecture halls of Campion and McGuinn. Regardless of one’s stance on the issue of same sex marriage, there’s no denying that last night’s event will keep our community engaged in meaningful conversations for a while to come. And after all, isn’t that what a university is about?