When the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in November that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, Harvard’s Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters Alliance (BGLTSA) celebrated in front of the Science Center. In May, the group planned a “wedding march” to City Hall to watch couples file for licenses on the day the ruling took effect.
But for other student groups on campus, the response to the court’s decision reflected the wider division across the country.
The Harvard College Democrats joined the BGLTSA in support of same-sex marriage, even though this meant taking a different stance from their party’s presidential candidate, Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., who supports civil unions only.
“The bottom line is that John Kerry is Catholic and a member of a much older generation,” Dems Legislative Director Thomas M. McSorley ’06 said last month. “I really do believe this issue will change as our generation grows older.”
Kerry’s opponent in the November election, President George W. Bush, advocates a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages, and the Harvard Republican Club (HRC) “stands with the president” on the issue, club spokesperson Lauren Truesdell ’06 told The Crimson last month.
But this stance has prompted criticism from member Joshua A. Barro ’05, who organized a group of Republicans in support of gay marriage to travel to City Hall on the night couples were first allowed to file for licenses.
HRC members have been engaged in debate over their e-mail list, with Barro and others arguing that the Republican Party offers no clear statement about a federal ban.
They say that without an official party platform or a decision by the club’s executive board, the HRC should not take a public stance on an issue on which its membership is divided.
According to a Crimson poll conducted last December, 49 percent of students who would vote Republican in a hypothetical Congressional election said they supported the court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriages, while 43 percent said they disagreed with the decision.
“It’s clear that Lauren overstepped her bounds by making that statement on behalf of the club,” Barro says.
Truesdell says the club stands by its statement, although the board may discuss its policy when it returns in the fall.
“We are bound by our constitution to follow the party platform, and I took that to by extension mean the policies of the sitting president, who is the head of the party,” Truesdell says.
In the past Harvard has had two Republican clubs taking different positions on social issues. Barro says he believes it is best to have one club focused on less divisive topics such as supporting the “war on terror” or limited government, as long as it refrains from taking stances on contentious social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. But he adds that he would consider the possibility of forming a new club if HRC’s leaders take stances he opposes.
“I, as a person who is not a social conservative, don’t feel at home in this club if we’re going to be going out there and expressing our support for the [constitutional ban on same-sex marriage], for policies where the government attempts to impose moral order on the public,” he says. “I don’t think the club has to be an organization that takes stances on issues that are divisive among Republicans at Harvard. I don’t think that’s particularly productive.”
But Truesdell says she does not believe that the club should avoid socially divisive issues, adding that members often differ with the party on some parts of the platform but “accept that there are more important things” that led them to support the party.
“I think it’s very important that we support national policy because it makes our club stronger,” she says. “We’re the Republican club. That means we support Republican beliefs. Whether or not they are fashionable on our particular campus is not so much the issue.”
—Staff writer Jessica R. Rubin-Wills can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org