By Marwa Farag
The newly established Stanford Anscombe Society (SAS) hosted its first event, titled “Marriage Without Adjectives,” on Tuesday night. Former Hoover Fellow Jennifer Roback Morse, the founder of the Ruth Institute, delivered the kickoff talk.
According to the official SAS description, the group “is a non-politically and non-religiously affiliated student group that fosters campus thought regarding the roles of the family, marriage, sexual ethics, chastity and sexuality in the lives of Stanford students.”
Morse, an affiliate of the Love and Fidelity Network (which includes SAS), said the network encompasses student organizations of “young adults who have made it their mission to say something new about human sexuality.”
The student network also promotes abstinence before marriage across 35 college campuses.
Morse’s 40-minute speech prompted an active question and answer session. She emphasized the importance of bringing the dialogue to youth at college campuses.
Morse defined marriage as “an organic, naturally occurring social institution” with the sole purposes of “sexual activity, spousal love and child rearing.”
“Marriage is the linchpin of society…and young people need accurate information about the big picture,” she said.
This definition of marriage proved contentious to some audience members when discussed in the context of same sex marriages.
“The children of same-sex unions will either be deprived of one of their parents, or have three parents in their lives playing parental roles,” Morse said. “When courts say there is a right to same-sex marriage, what they have to do is redefine the purpose of marriage.”
Morse described the Love and Fidelity Network as a response to relatively new trends in sexuality on college campuses. Her speech also tackled other problems she believes have been created by the “sexual revolution” of the past 40 years.
“One of the first and most destructive steps was the ‘no fault’ divorce,” she said, referring to the passing of the 1970 divorce laws.
“It made people unhappy and perpetuated injustices against women, men and children alike,” she added.
Morse saw similarities between this shift in marriage regulations and the current issues surrounding same sex marriage.
“The shift to ‘no fault’ divorce was not a minor change, but a huge social shift…same sex marriage changes the structure of marriage more profoundly than ‘no fault’ divorce,” she said.
This social shift, she argued, was the dissolution of the family unit, leading to an expansion of the powers of the state. Morse believed that involving the courts “in the minutia of family life is hardly the behavior of a free society” and that “no fault” divorce has blurred the boundaries between public and private lives.
Morse’s talk objected to the “intrusion” of the state into the private sphere, the shifting focus of family law and the high cost to the taxpayer of “social pathologies” that results from family breakdown.
Questions addressed teaching responsible parenting in school, same-sex adoption, nontraditional sexual practices within heterosexual marriages and the contradiction between discouraging pre-marital sex and banning same-sex marriages.
When asked about the “inevitability” of same-sex marriage legalization, Morse drew a parallel with the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion. She did not “accept that same sex marriage is inevitable,” and offered two supporting claims.
The first claim was that same sex marriage’s advances had been made in the courts not on the ballot. The second claim had to do with the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision “that abortion on demand was going to be the law of the land,” she said.
“At the time, the advocates for abortion said the younger generation was going to support abortion rights…That has turned out to be largely untrue,” Morse said. “It’s taken a period of time for the full brutality of the abortion regime to become obvious to people. I think something is similar of same sex marriage.”
The conversation, which drifted into highly sensitive and controversial topics, remained calm throughout the session.
“I’m very pleased to see a civil discussion that still gets to the heart of the issues,” music professor George Barth said. “I was very interested to hear what she had to say, especially with such divergent groups represented in the audience.”
SAS Co-founder Bernard VanBerkum ’14 saw the dialogue itself as a reason for the group’s foundation.
“In a lot of the campus conversation there’s this atmosphere that isn’t really a debate,” he said. “There are nonreligious reasons to say that same-sex marriage isn’t something that makes sense and Stanford students need to hear this.”
VanBerkum, who wrote an op-ed in the Stanford Review titled “Defending Traditional Marriage,” recognized that SAS will face significant opposition.
“If you look at the ROTC debate, it was largely two very vocal minorities and most students didn’t really care,” he said. “For this, at first, it’ll probably be us, SSQL [Stanford Students for Queer Liberation] and a bunch of students who don’t have time to care.”
Opponents of the group object to both its views and its presence on campus.
“It’s upsetting that they were given SAL [Student Activities and Leadership] status,” said Dan Thompson’13.
“Optimally, everybody should be allowed to be a student group, but SAL curates and since they do, it’s very upsetting that a homophobic, anti-women, misogynistic group is given status when others are not,” he said.
Thompson also worried that the group’s polarization of the dialogue will detract from other issues.
“These guys are going to be labeled the anti-gay marriage group when, in reality, they’re an extremist group and it’s going to distract from real homophobia on campus,” he said.
Nathaniel Williams ’13 characterized the event as a “hate fest.”
“I’m virtually speechless,” Williams said. “Never have I seen or participated in or heard of hosting an academic speaker who came across as so broadly ignorant, offensive.”
“The preview in the Stanford Review sort of posed it as a discussion about same sex marriage, but in actually it turned out to be more of a anti-abortion, anti-same sex adoption, anti-women, anti-good government, hate fest,” he said.
Other attendees at the event cited various reasons for attending.
“I’m interested in marriage and how it’s approached in the public sphere…if there’s a right approach, how government is involved, those type of philosophical questions,” said Jason Stuckey, a doctoral candidate in earth sciences.
According to VanBerkum, SAS will hold weekly meetings, which will be open to the public, to further the discussion.