Five representatives from religious and advocacy groups gathered to discuss the legal ramifications of same-sex marriage at an event held yesterday at the Harvard Kennedy School.
The panel, which featured a diverse range of opinions, was sponsored by the Harvard Kennedy School California Caucus, the Commonwealth Caucus, the Latter-day Saint Student Association, and the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Caucus.
The speakers—Arline Isaacson, Timothy P. McCarthy ’93, Kris Mineau, Morris Thurston, and Greg Sorensen—delivered brief opening statements before engaging in a discussion that was open to audience members.
Isaacson, McCarthy, and Thurston each spoke in favor of same-sex marriage. Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, addressed the "terra firma" aspects of the issue.
"Civil marriage is a gateway to over 1,400 benefits, rights, and protections," Isaacson said. Most of those rights, she added, require a marriage license and cannot be "contracted or collectively bargained for."
McCarthy, director of the Carr Center’s Human Rights and Social Movements Program and a lecturer at HKS and the College, drew parallels between the movement to legalize same-sex marriage and the civil rights movement.
Thurston, the only lawyer at the panel and a member of the Mormon Church, said he predicts that California’s state constitution will change to allow same-sex marriage within a few years.
But Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, a conservative public policy organization, argued against the idea that gay marriage is a civil right. He said that civil rights must come from the democratic legislative process and not from court decisions. A civil right cannot be taken away if it did not exist in the first place, he added.
Sorensen, assistant director of public affairs at the LDS Multi-Stake Public Affairs Council, also expressed support for the separation between civil union and marriage, stating that his church defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
The event’s main organizer, Carrie E. Sheffield, a Mormon student at HKS, said that the panel aimed to encourage civil dialogue around the highly politicized issue.
"We were hoping to move beyond the gridlocks," Sheffield said.
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