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By Eartha Melzer
TRAVERSE CITY – Wasn’t marriage, the institution, changed when women stopped being chattel and were given rights?
“This wasn’t a critical change,” said Carey Wildie, the sole representative of the anti-gay marriage camp, prompting some gasps.
This may not have been exactly what Wildie meant, but with emotions high, and with an involved crowd raising complex arguments, panelists had to race to make their points.
Around fifty people gathered last Friday night for a panel discussion on gay marriage at Northwestern Michigan College. The event was sponsored by the LGBT student group Spectrum.
Organizers say the turnout was excellent, particularly considering difficulties in promoting the event. Flyers advertising the discussion were torn down and area community calendars did not list the event.
Among the students and community members present in the audience, were several long-term committed gay and lesbian couples that told the crowd about their relationships. Couples wanted to make their presence known and show that they are good citizens: paying taxes, working, taking care of one another.
“That’s nice that you are such good citizens, said United Church of Christ minister, Robin Long, “But why should you have to be? Do heterosexual people have to prove they are good people in order to get married?”
Long was one of a group of ministers at the event who voiced discomfort with the mixing of church and state over marriage. Long wondered what makes ministers qualified to legally marry people.
What is marriage? What purpose does it serve? Why are benefits bestowed upon married people? Is the foundation of the nation marriages or healthy relationships?
These were the types of questions raised during the two hour-long discussion.
“Marriage is a failed institution, fifty percent of marriages fail. Imagine if fifty percent of people failed high school, we would see it as a failed institution. Why not with marriage?” asked psychology professor, Harry Wright.
Wright pointed out that until the emotional underpinnings of the marriage discussion are addressed, rational debate and social change will be difficult.
Panelist and lawyer, Blake Ringsmuth, described same-sex marriage as “the civil rights issue of our time.”
Ringsmuth called the move to amend the constitution to ban gay marriage a “drastic and frightening step.”
“The constitution is a sacred document that protects those who cannot protect themselves,” said Ringsmuth. “The effect of a constitutional amendment would be to end the evolution of this debate.”
NMC Diversity Coordinator, Lisa Blackford, said she suggested the gay marriage panel theme to Spectrum after a campus poll showed students were not engaged with political issues in this election season. Blackford said that same-sex marriage has energized classroom debate in several disciplines. She hopes that discussion of current events will motivate students to register and vote.