Updated September 22, 2005 Compiled & written by Mike Fitzpatrick & Dan Ross
Marriage Matters In Experts’ Debate
Madison - Evan Wolfson and Glenn Stanton both agree - marriage matters. They’ve both written books that contain the phrase in their respective titles. But that is about all two of the nation’s leading experts on marriage issues could agree on during a 90 minute debate in front of a near capacity audience at the University of Wisconsin’s 1300-seat Union Theater here September 21.
Wolfson, who serves as the Executive Director of Freedom To Marry and has been involved in the current marriage equality debate since arguing the subject in front to the Hawaii state Supreme Court in 1993, that the benefits bestowed by civil marriage are too critical to be denied same-sex couples. Echoing comments made in his recent exclusive Quest Wisconsin interview, Woflson told the largely supportive crowd that "If the government doesn't have a harm it's preventing - a harm that outweighs the tremendous harm done to (gay and lesbian) couples and their kids - it shouldn't be putting obstacles in the way of loving families."
Stanton, vice president of Focus on the Family and self-reported father of four girls, ranging from “girly-girls to tomboys,” claimed granting marriage equality to same-sex couples was the real harm to families. Stanton argued that marriage between one man and one woman should be maintained because it has always been “a human universal and neither male nor female roles are optional.”
Stanton also claimed that gay marriage “isn't about producing children, it's about satisfying ‘adult desires.’” He then referenced lesbian celebrity Rosie O'Donnell's story of how he then-6-year-old kept saying he wanted a daddy. Stanton claimed that was proof of how innate it is for children to want parents of both sexes.
Wolfson urged listeners to focus not on theoretical concepts, but on the consequences of discrimination for real gay and lesbian families. "There are thousands of kids being raised by gay parents in Wisconsin. Those kids have parents; they're not going to be transferred to somebody else's idea of what ideal parents would be," he said, adding that if those children were truly at a disadvantage, "wouldn't it be more important to provide those kids with the best protection, the best safety net?"
In response to Stanton's claim that in all societies, marriage has been about bringing men and women together, Wolfson explained that historically it also was one man and several women, and that women were considered to be property. Wolfson then brought up the relatively recently illegal issue of "marital rape.”
"If you want to lump all those horrible things into marriage, who's doing that?" Stanton responded, prompting the crowd to shout back, "You!"
Earlier in the evening, Stanton claimed that same-sex marriage would open the door to polygamy, saying that “there are a lot of people in Utah interested in these developments.”
Wolfson countered with verbatim quotations from court decisions against interracial marriage that alluded to how a "Turk and his harem would move in" and how the children of interracial unions would be “sickly and feminine.”
Though clearly motivating much of Stanton’s rhetoric, theological reasoning for his opposition to marriage equality for gay and lesbian families remained outwardly unspoken. Stanton even claimed that nowhere on the Focus on The Family website will anyone find homosexuality condemned as immoral. Stanton even called Wolfson a “moral person,” and took offense at Wolfson’s repeated characterization of Stanton’s supporters as “opponents of equality.”
The debate, sponsored in part by the Wisconsin Union Directorate Contemporary Issues Committee, was the second major match-up on marriage equality issue in the last 11 months. Former HRC Executive Director Elizabeth Birch debated Robert Knight, Director of the Concerned Women For America’s Culture and Family Institute at the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay late last year.