Opinion | Op-eds

Prejudgment skewers debate

This past weekend, Lerner Hall was host to the Family in Modern Society Conference, arranged by students here at Columbia. The conference featured speakers from various universities who spoke on a multitude of topics, including the socioeconomic benefits of stable families, the differences in the adult quality of life for low-income children in married and unmarried families, and, yes, a defense of “traditional marriage.” If you were to ask around campus, you could very easily get the impression that a conclave of fundamentalist, homophobic demagogues was holding the conference. As I left my dorm to head to the conference’s opening session, I was actually asked if I was going to that “anti-gay thing.” As a supporter of marriage equality, I found the slander—unintentional as it was—to be particularly stinging.

Earlier in the week, I had received an invitation to take part in a pro-LGBT rights rally on campus and had considered going, unaware that the event being protested was the conference that I was planning on attending. As I approached Lerner, I was slightly confused about the intent of the picketers—I hadn’t been under the impression that this was an anti-gay conference.

The lectures were thoughtful and incisive—so much so that I quickly discarded my original plan of staying for a few sessions before returning to work. The speakers, to a T, were academics who based their arguments and presentations on facts and reason, not on bigotry or prejudice. Only one speaker, author Dawn Eden, made an argument based on religious grounds, and her lecture, “Everything is Tolerated and Nothing is Forgiven,” was about chastity and dealing with the excesses of permissiveness, not about the LGBT community. Only three speakers broached the issue of same-sex relationships, and only two of those three explicitly passed judgment on these relationships.

Even then, the arguments were made on strictly rational grounds. Lynn Wardle outlined the case for traditional marriage on the notion that the family was the original, fundamental building block of society as envisioned by the Founding Fathers. Disagree as I may, this was not the rambling of a bigot. This was a reasoned, principled argument based on a fundamental respect for the LGBT community coupled with a specific interpretation of American history.

As I listened to the issues—both agreeing and disagreeing at times—I felt a particular sense of excitement, picking up viewpoints I have seldom heard since coming to Columbia. I couldn’t help but notice something else as well, though. The room was, at best, half-full, yet I had been told that the event was sold out. It was revealed, eventually, that many of the tickets had been taken by the Columbia University Democrats, of all groups. I was predictably confused as to what the Democrats would want to do with a conference like this. Yet, perhaps more pressingly, I wondered, “Where are they?”

They eventually made an appearance, albeit well into the afternoon, during Sherif Girgis’ lecture. They stood silently, holding up signs advocating marriage equality and tolerance, as Girgis, a Rhodes Scholar and J.D. candidate at Yale, made his case for marriage as between a man and a woman. When he was done, they left. Still, despite the protest, a large number of seats had remained unfilled. Throughout the day, a few students trickled in, asking about the conference, and were invariably seated because of the sheer surplus of space. Many more at Columbia and in the community, however, were denied this chance, even if this was not the intent of the Democrats when reserving tickets in bulk.

From the start, the CU Democrats seemed misinformed—if not intent on spreading misinformation—about the purpose of the forum. It was not, as some that day said, an “anti-gay marriage tirade,” but a debate on the status of the modern family. The lectures did not express mainstream American thought, or even liberal thought. In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama called for “removing the financial deterrents to marriage for low-income couples, and doing more to encourage fatherhood—because what makes you a man isn’t the ability to conceive a child, it’s having the courage to raise one.” Despite this, the issue of the future of the family is a conversation that the CU Democrats seem unwilling to allow to take place, much less to take part in, despite their physical presence.

Our university benefits from pluralism, a free exchange of ideas, and the constant intercourse between competing schools of thought. Sometimes, a moral consensus emerges—such as the heartening decision of many of the Ivy League Democratic and Republican associations to endorse marriage equality. But a consensus is not a golden rule; It is not fixed. It should not be immune to debate. I happen to agree with that consensus, but when we place name-calling, intimidation, and disruption above an honest discussion of the issues, we all lose.

The author is a Columbia College first year.

To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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Jason Stout posted on

Great article. Thank you!

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Anonymous posted on

Thanks, Kyle for the fair review.

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Anonymous posted on

You're assuming that the CU Dems weren't familiar with Girgis' arguments in the first place. Just because someone presents their viewpoint as a legitimate point of contention in a "debate" doesn't mean anyone is required to treat it as such, or conclude that it is, anymore. This articles has good intentions but also all the naivete of good intentions.

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Anonymous posted on

This is a hearteningly open-minded piece about the value of listening to people you disagree with: very much an attitude Columbia can benefit from cultivating.

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Anonymous posted on

It seems highly unlikely to me that the author of this article has any close relationships with LGTBQ people, or has ever spoken to them about what discrimination like this feels like. As a queer woman, I cannot imagine any way at all that an argument to deny my civil rights could be rooted in anything other than discrimination. A brief google search of some of the speakers turned up writing that I would certainly deem bigoted and discriminatory. The content of this conference is highly offensive--regardless of how intellectually sound or well-reasoned their arguments sounded to you, being told that you are less-than, that your family or your love does not deserve equal recognition and respect, that who you are is somehow wrong, always stings. I don't know how on earth you conclude that the speakers were arguing based on "a fundamental respect for the LGBTQ community," but I strongly suggest you ask someone who has actually experienced the pain of this kind of discrimination before you write in its defense. I find it deeply hurtful and guess that most of my fellow LGBTQ students here would feel the same. No one here is calling for the stifling of discourse--just for challenging discourse that we may find to be offensive. You may call it "name-calling, intimidation, and disruption," but I am very, very glad that members of my community stood up against this kind of bigoted, discriminatory thinking and expressed their dissent.

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Anonymous posted on

As long as everyone focuses on there own self interests nothing will be resolved.

There is no hate or bigotry is claiming that heterosexual marriage, family and parenting is the best for society and the best for children.

Whats happening is the word bigot and even homophobia have lost their meaning and therefore their power.

Let see how wise the pro LGBTQ crowd can be....

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Anonymous posted on

CC writes: "It seems highly unlikely to me that the author of this article has any close relationships with LGTBQ people, or has ever spoken to them about what discrimination like this feels like. As a queer woman, I cannot imagine any way at all that an argument to deny my civil rights could be rooted in anything other than discrimination." This is the essence of prejudice: allowing your personal relationships--however rich and important--to shape your moral views. I hold to a particular religion, and I think that religion is true. Consequently, I think that people who embrace other religions are wrong. Some of these people are dear friends, who I dearly love. And yet, if I am to remain rational and a man of integrity, I cannot let my love for these people shape what I know on other grounds is true. However, if I were unwilling to take the argument where it leads, since to do so would be too painful, because I am too emotionally invested in the contrary point of view, that would be PREJUDICE. And that is precisely the position you're defending.

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Berri Sheed posted on

A college student on a healthy, humble search for truth wherever it may lead. What a refreshing change from the whining "you hurt my feelings so I don't have to listen to you" posture these days.

Veritas!

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Anonymous posted on

Oh, it's not just "you hurt my feelings so I don't have to listen to you"; it's rather, "you hurt my feelings, so you have to shut up, and maybe be punished."

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Chris posted on

This is another example of the incredible hypocrisy of the "tolerance" crowd, who are some of the most intolerant, hateful, bigoted people you can find. The minute you disagree with them and oppose their agenda, they are the first in line to attack you, demonize you, judge and condemn you in blanket fashion, and try to silence you. Here they are trying prevent people from even listening to others who may have a differing view from theirs and intimidating people beforehand. Why not let people decide on their own? What are they afraid of? The tactic of demonizing others is a deliberate one: label anyone with opposing views as "hateful" and "homophobic", etc., in order to disqualify them. It is increasingly clear that the tolerant folks are really the ones who want to force their views on others and will not stand for any dissent. Everything they accuse others of is what they themselves are guilty of.

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Anonymous posted on

Yes, great. Thank you. As a gay alum (CC '12) and fervent supporter of LGBTQ rights and marriage equality, I couldn't agree more. We can't allow our emotions and our personal beliefs - no matter how strong they might be - to obviate rational discourse about contentious issues. And that goes whether we believe said issues SHOULD be contentious or not; let's not forget our John Stuart Mill.

You put it best: "when we place name-calling, intimidation, and disruption above an honest discussion of the issues, we all lose."

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Anonymous posted on

Follow up column idea: "even racists have feelings"

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