Visiting professor to hold lectures, discussions on gay marriage issues

By Sky Opila

Evan Wolfson, Executive Director of the Freedom to Marry Project and professor of law at Columbia University, has been on campus since Wednesday, and will be here till Friday, holding discussions about gay marriage. His series of lectures and discussions coincides with the release of his book “Marriage as a Human Rights Battlefield.”

According to his official biography, Wolfson worked for the Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund in New York City, where he represented several gay marriage cases in front of the Supreme Court. In 2000, Wolfson was honored by the National Law Journal as one of “100 most influential attorneys in America.”

Wolfson will lead talks and discussions about the facets of gay marriage, including opposition, legality and necessity. His talks will provide insight about how gay marriage is necessary to uphold the United States’ free ideals.

The discussions will cover issues surrounding marriage throughout history for homosexuals and heterosexuals in Western culture. In addition, they will address other issues, such as, political debate across the board for nontraditional families across the nation.

Thursday’s event will be a lecture followed by questions. However, Wolfson will hold discussions every day he is on campus.

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The lecture this evening is being sponsored by the Office for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns and McKinley Memorial Presbyterian Church.

Tom Seals, retired University counselor and professor, feels that Wolfson’s discussions are key to the lives of many students. Seals is a member of McKinley Memorial Presbyterian Church’s More Light Committee, an advocate group for equal rights in religious institutions.

“Gay students need to realize how important it is that their relationships are recognized as lawful through marriage,” Seals said. “This debate is the larger civil rights movement of our time; it is both important to social policy and choice through civil rights.”

Curt McKay, director of the LGBT office, feels that one of the biggest oppositions to gay marriage is religion, an idea that upsets many individuals including McKay himself.

“One of the things that I’m really dismayed to find is that the word “Christian”, for me, has become a dirty word. That makes me really sad,” he said. “In most Christian churches, I know that I’m unwelcome, and this applies to all the major religions.”

On the other hand, people such as Seals are working to promote a better understanding of same-sex couples to create a friendly, welcoming religious community. Seals said he feels that Wolfson takes a stance to show how the religious community appears both negative and positive.

“I think that Wolfson understands where churches are politically divided,” Seals said. “He mentions in his book that all the major religions in which the conservative wings have been negative actually have no teachings to agree with these claims. In fact, it is often counter to their teachings.”

McKay said in addition to the firm conservative stance against gay marriage, same-sex couples are forced into situations where they cannot create a permanent seal on their relationships. Without this ability, many same-sex couples lose out on financial elements that married couples generally share.

“If I had a partner and I died, my partner would not be able to get spouse benefits from the retirement system or from social security, a married partner can,” McKay said. “If I died suddenly and had not arranged it through a will, my partner would not be able to inherit my home, or share in my stock. So, there are a lot of financial issues at hand when refusing same-sex couples the right of marriage,” he added.

McKay said due to this stance that is generally taken against gay marriage, he feels that this set of lectures and discussions by Wolfson will be very beneficial in opening the eyes of many students.

“Students will get a greater understanding, if they’re straight, of things they don’t even have to think about with marriage, in terms of rights and privileges,” he said, “The same-sex couples who come will find out why it is important for us to be able to have the same status for our partnerships, if we seek them.”

This set of lectures and discussions is not to necessarily change students’ minds about the issues of gay marriage but to enlighten them and ensure that they are knowledgeable of the topics for debate, McKay said.

Robert Biziarek, junior in LAS, feels that students should attend Wolfson’s events to better understand the topic at hand.

“I think it is a positive, but small step in helping students shape a consciousness in sensitivity,” Biziarek said. “Communities at home and abroad need to continue to strive to progress in promoting equal rights for anyone and everyone.”