Baylor Law students filled the Kronzer Courtroom on Tuesday, Oct. 4, to listen to a debate on a topic wrestle with by churches, states and courts across the U.S. The Baylor American Constitution Society and the Federalist Society, both new student organizations, hosted "A Debate on the Definition of Marriage," with Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, founder and president of the Ruth Institute, and Manuel Quinto-Pozos, former staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, speaking. Baylor Law Dean Brad Toben served as moderator.
"Throughout the history of this country, marriage traditionally has been defined as a legal and spiritual union between a man and a woman; however, in recent years the definition has begun to expand as a result of change in social and family values and the activism of the gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities," Toben said of the debate.
During the 1.5-hour event, Morse and Quinto-Pozos debated whether homosexual couples should be granted state marriage licenses and the relationship between marriage and parenting. Each speaker made a 10-minute statement and took questions from the audience.
During her statement, Morse took the position that the public purpose of marriage is "to attach mothers and fathers to their children and to one another."
"That's an essential purpose in the following sense: if you didn't need that purpose, I claim, you wouldn't need the institution of marriage at all," she said.
Quinto-Pozos disputed that argument and said distaste for homosexuals is often at the root of prohibiting homosexual marriage. He cited U.S. Supreme Court case law that says the right to marry "is so fundamental to self-definition and to personal liberty" that it is protected by the "due process" clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Andy Jones, president of the Baylor American Constitution Society, said fellow students were interested in the dialog that happened at the debate.
"It was compelling. Students were still talking about it several days later, although opinions on who 'won' the debate varied widely," he said.
Bri Turner of the Federalist Society said it is important for Baylor Law to have a forum to discuss such topics and to learn why the law says what it says and to study and learn about the formation of public policy underlying the law.
"The goal was to create an informed place for civil discussion," she said.
Both organizations are planning more events to help reach that goal. On Nov. 15, the Federalist Society will host another debate that focuses on the law and public policy as it applies to conception and abortion. Two days later, the American Constitution Society will hold a lecture regarding adoption law and how it relates to constitutional issues.
"I was so impressed by what these organizations did to bring about the type of civil yet provocative event that we had, and I'm looking ahead to more such events. I was honored to be a part and to be present for the fascinating exchange," Toben said.
The American Constitution Society is a progressive legal organization that promotes the U.S. Constitutional values of "individual rights and liberties, genuine equality, access to justice, democracy and the rule of law." The Federalist Society is a nonpartisan organization that promotes judicial restraint and seeks reform in accordance with a textualist and/or originalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.