UCSB Professor of Philosophy Quentin Gee and author Ryan T. Anderson debated the role of traditional marriage on Thursday at UCSB, toeing the line of civility and contention as they defended their views about limiting marriage to heterosexual couples.
The event was based on the landmark 2015 United States Supreme Court case of Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the court held in a 5:4 decision that the right to marriage is guaranteed for same-sex couples. The UCSB Anscombe Society, which hosted the event, supports the definition of marriage as a monogamous union between man and woman.
Anderson is an author and researcher at the Heritage Foundation, focusing on marriage and religious liberty. Gee’s current research focuses on collective responsibility and the topic’s relation to ethical, political, and legal philosophy. The debate followed a traditional format, allowing for an opening speech, rebuttal, cross-examination, and a closing speech following a question and answer session. Ph.D. candidate in philosophy Keith Hess moderated the debate.
Gee began by speaking “off the cuff” about the adaptive nature of marriage, saying it is fundamentally an evolving social institution with no biological basis. Gee supported a companionate definition of marriage — a long-term union between any two people for mutual support. “If we think of that in the raw reason,” Gee said, “there’s no clear reason to exclude same-sex couples.”
Anderson instead supported a conjugal definition of marriage, claiming the institution of marriage is designed to “unite man and woman as one flesh” and to join couples at “all levels of our humanity.” Speaking quickly with a three-tiered argument, Anderson suggested that opening up the institution of marriage to various sexualities would transform it into nothing other than “contract law.”
“We’ve not only redefined marriage, we’ve abolished marriage,” Anderson said. “Instead, there are many consenting adult relationships in as many sizes and shapes as consent comes in.”
While Gee considered Obergefell a just decision, Anderson believed it was a form of “judicial usurpation,” which effectively limits religious freedom. During the rebuttal, Gee claimed the government usurped the democratic process because the treatment of same-sex couples was a constitutional violation.
In response, Anderson offered the case of florist Barronelle Stutzman, who was sued by the state of Washington for refusing to sell flowers to a gay couple for their wedding. Anderson, who will be filing an amicus brief to the Washington court in defense of Stutzman’s religious freedom, upheld that Obergefell was unconstitutional. Gee followed by saying that commercial operators do not have the liberty of discrimination and that one’s sexual or gender identity is a fundamental part of self-conception which they cannot be denied services for.
Both debaters navigated through religious and philosophical reasoning for their arguments, touching upon civil liberty and interpretations of discrimination versus political correctness. The cross-examination was friendly, but animated, and moderator Hess was forced to bring it to an end. The exchange inevitably trickled into the question and answer portion of the evening, during which several audience questions instead refueled the debate between the two thinkers. Humming with dissent or approval as Gee and Anderson defended their viewpoints, the audience became more enlivened toward the latter part of the evening.
In closing, Anderson said he was pleased to have engaged in a civil debate about an issue which may be contentious on the liberal campus of UCSB. Supporting his final view, he said Gee’s argument decided discrimination too subjectively, and suggested “pluralism doesn’t mean we all become the same, it means we create a space for all of us to be different.”
Gee closed saying the conjugal view of marriage fails to live up to rational scrutiny. “You can be in favor of a traditional view of marriage, but you have to recognize that traditions change,” Gee said. “If you want to go back to some sort of cemented historical notion of what marriage is, you have no reference point.
“I know it can be a very divisive issue. It’s one people can be attacked for, not physically, but verbally denigrated for because they have a particular view,” Gee said. “I think it’s important to respect that, but at the same time challenge it, because it is in many ways misguided.”
Carlos Flores, president of Anscombe Society and fourth-year UCSB student, was pleased with the civility of the discussion. Flores, who felt Anderson’s argument was more sound, said the organization intends to host more debates in the future.
“On contentious topics especially, because that’s what this university is for: to promote learning in the recent discussion among people who disagree with one another,” Flores said.