Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Not-So-Live Blogging on Gay Marriage Amendment Debate

We promised it would be good, and it was.

No wireless connectivity in the venue, therefore no real live blogging. But we took running notes, which we now post.

Rich Orton, President of Pi Sigma Alpha, is the moderator. Introduces speakers, and warns the audience that cheers and boos are inappropriate, and that civility must prevail. For the most part it does, all throughout the debate.

The opening statements

Christopher Wolfe (for the Amendment):

Addresses the argument that the Amendment is not needed, since gay marriage is outlawed now. Wolfe points out that the proponents of gay marriage would cheerfully enshrine gay marriage in the Constitution.

Wolfe now turns to judicial activism, and points out that there is a real possibility that activist judges might well (as in Massachusetts and New Jersey) impose gay marriage.

Wolfe rebuts the notion that the second part of the Amendment would somehow interfere with existing rights and privileges.

“Domestic partner” benefits and such would not be touched by the Amendment.

Opponents have engaged in a campaign of “manipulation” rather than honest political argument.

Mike Tate (against the Amendment):

”We don’t know for sure” what the Amendment would do.

Wants to talk about “why this is on the ballot.” Says it “inflames peoples’ passions.”

Says there would be no debate if the Amendment had stopped with the first clause.

Says second sentence would could “harm things” and “jeopardize things” like domestic partner benefits.

“Has been used to try to take away” domestic partner benefits in other states.

Says gay marriage is “not what’s at stake here.” It’s “about who we are as a people.”

Rick Esenberg (for the Amendment):

Not convinced that homosexual relations are immoral, but does care about marriage.

“Each child should have his or her birthright:” to know and be raised by a mother and father.

Points out fundamental dishonesty of Amendment opponents: they assure people that gay marriage won’t happen, while devoutly believing that the lack of gay marriage is an injustice.

Says that homophobia can’t explain the public resistance to gay marriage. “Are we prepared to create motherless and fatherless families.” Public isn’t prepared to do that.

Scott Moss (against the Amendment):

Says “none of the arguments in favor of the Amendment hold up.”

Says Amendment “would create quite a lot of uncertainty.”

Not sure about the argument that every child should have a mother and father. Discusses gay adoption, saying that some kids are in foster care or in an orphanage.

Says issue isn’t “which is better? Mom and Dad, or Dad and Dad.”

Preserve traditional relationships? Says “I am married, and I expect to remain married.”

Says we have often changed the policy toward marriage.

First part of the question and answer section, questions posed by Orton:

Question to Wolfe: Will we be incorporating discrimination into the state Constitution.

Wolfe: Yes, but that’s what the law always does. It’s appropriate to treat people differently. Some people are eligible for welfare benefits, and others aren’t.

Do we “discriminate” against groups of three or more people who want to be married? Yes, because we think that there are fundamental things about marriage, including giving yourself to one person.

Most important thing: children. “It’s not primarily about an intimate personal relationship.”

Of course some heterosexual relationships don’t create children.

Mike Tate Responds:

Returns to “what’s really going on here.” Claims that the intend is to eradicate the benefits of any kind of relationship aside from marriage.

Claims that adopting the Amendment will create a lot of legal cases.

Question to Mike Tate:

How does defeating the Amendment “promote family values,” as sidewalk chalking around Marquette asserts.

Tate claims that the Amendment would remove all legal protections from homosexual couples.

Really demagogues the issue. Claims the support of the AFL-CIO and various interest groups (ignoring the fact that they are liberal interest groups).

Esenberg Responds:

Debunks notion that failure to pass the amendment would hold down litigation. “This is the United States, if a butterfly flaps it’s wings, there is litigation.”

Horrible things haven’t happened in other states that have adopted a Defense of Marriage Amendment.

Question to Esenberg:

Will Amendment destroy protection against domestic violence?

No, since the Wisconsin statute says nothing about a sexual relationship between the two parties.

The intention of the people who wrote the Amendment would be a key factor when the courts interpret it. The clear intention was not to (for example) remove domestic partner benefits.

Scott Moss Responds:

Points to examples of interest groups in Ohio who have tried to remove protections. (But doesn’t say that any of these suits were successful.)

Question to Scott Moss:

What about judicial activism?

Moss doesn’t think that any other states will follow New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Kalamazoo, Michigan was threatened with a lawsuit, and withdrew medical benefits from gay partners.

Wolfe Responds:

Anybody who knows anything about the modern judiciary knows that judges are “a real danger” in advancing a social agenda that can’t succeed in the democratic arena.

Audience Questions Begin:

Brandon Henak:

Works for GE Medical Systems, which provides domestic partner benefits, including in states that have Protection of Marriage Amendments.

Mike Tate says that conservative interest groups would pressure companies to stop providing domestic partner benefits.

Esenberg Responds:

Points out that no court anywhere has prevented private employer from providing domestic benefits.

Jess Cushion Asks Wolfe:

Which legal protections that married people get don’t you think that homosexual couples should get?

Wolfe responds, largely dodges the question.

Rebuts the notion that the intention was to “stick it to gays.”

Moss responds:

Points out that Wolfe can’t point to one specific right that gay couples can’t have.

Believes “protecting marriage” is “a bizarre term.”

Another questioner:

Says that the real issue is the extension of benefits at taxpayer expense to relationships that add nothing to society.

Mike Tate goes really demagogic, and misinterprets speakers question to mean that gay people add nothing to society.

Wolfe responds: again denies that the intention is to harm gays.

Question to Esenberg:

Questioner says that “neither side knows what will happen.” “So why should we vote to something that will be part of the Constitution forever.”

Esenberg points out that he can’t received veterans benefits, because he wasn’t a veteran.

The rules that surround marriage follow from the fact that the rules surrounding marriage are shaped around the fact that heterosexual relationships might produce children.

Closing statements:


Wants to talk about kids. Says “whenever kids are involved, it’s more image as opposed to substance.”

Says gay marriage won’t take kids away from straight parents.

Says you make it harder for homosexual couples to enter long-term stable relationship if the Amendment is passed.

Says proponents want to limit democracy by “preventing people in the future from changing their mind.”


Law has two functions: to set rules and to reinforce social norms.

Example: no fault divorce. Changed the way people think about commitment in marriage.

“Are we prepared to accept as a social norm, a signal we sent to the rest of society, that mothers and fathers don’t matter.”

Mike Tate:

Repeats that “what happened in other states” was questionable.

Attacks Wolfe and Esenberg claiming they “would not be first in line” to protect domestic benefits.

Says the other side “just wants to talk about marriage.”

Chris Wolfe:

Point is not “what benefits should be denied to homosexual couples.” What would be denied would be “the whole bundle” of benefits. Any individual benefit would be up for consideration, but the whole package would be precluded.

Issue is “how does gay marriage affect our understanding or marriage.” Makes the analogy to no fault divorce in the early 70s.


A splendid debate, all in all.

Now some individual evaluations, no doubt biased by our opinions on the issue:

Rich Orton – fine job as moderator.

Rick Esenberg – fine job too. An eloquent advocate.

Chris Wolfe – good job too, but a bit defensive, insisting that the point isn’t to hurt gays. Also, should have answered Cushion’s question about what benefits he would deny gay couples. (We have a short list.)

Scott Moss – bright, personable and witty, but there was a fundamental incoherence to his argument. While Amendment opponents argue that this is “not about gay marriage,” Moss insisted on making a case for gay marriage! Anybody watching would conclude that the issue is gay marriage, and that Moss and Tate favor it (while insisting that it won’t come to Wisconsin).

Mike Tate – came across as a rather harsh demagogue, more intent on attacking Amendment opponents than making an argument. But unlike Moss, he stayed “on message” and avoided admitting that the whole debate is about gay marriage.


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