In a ripped from the headlines panel, the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at St. Petersburg College brought four experts to discuss the issue of same sex marriage to the Village Square program to the conference center at Seminole campus on Thursday, 26 March 2015.
The evening’s panel included local attorney Ben Diamond, Dr. David Liebert the social behavioral sciences department chair at SPC, Hannah Willard the state coordinator for marriage equality at Equality Florida, and John Stemberger the president of the Florida Family Policy Council. Craig Kopp, station manager of community radio WMNF 88.5 FM was moderator of the evening’s proceedings. Students from ethics, and American government classes from all over the SPC college system and student government representatives were in attendance.
In two straw polls conducted by the Institute, the audience favored a court decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide by more than three to one. The second question asking if Florida should pass legislation to bar discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity was favored by 84 percent of responses, with only five percent against, and 11 percent undecided. These figures are significantly higher than the national average from last year, according to Pew Research 54 percent of Americans favored legalizing same-sex marriage nationally in February of 2014, Gallup at 55 percent in May of 2014. See the panelists thoughts on discrimination law based on sexual orientation and gender in the video below.
Hannah Willard gave the first opening statement, outlining Equality Florida’s role in overturning the same-sex marriage ban that was voted into Florida’s constitution in 2008, which banned same-sex marriages in Florida and banned recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries such as Canada where it has been legal since 2005. She told the audience that the Supreme Court’s refusal to extend the lower court’s stay that opened the door to same-sex marriage in Florida made in profound difference in the lives of Floridians, since January 6th more than 3,000 same-sex couples have joined in wedlock. Willard provided an example of one woman in a relationship who died before the stay was lifted, and was unable to benefit from the healthcare and inheritance benefits that marriage provides. After Willard’s opening statement, Stemberger took the floor.
John Stemberger told the audience that same-sex marriage is having a detrimental effect on society, and devaluing gender differences. He said that Massachusetts marriage certificates are gender neutral, and mentioned the books Heather’s Two Mommies and King and King. Stemberger then showed a slide of a Fox News opinion article from 9 October 2014, “‘Gender Inclusive’ school district says drop ‘boys and girls’, call kids ‘purple penguins’, by Todd Starnes and claimed that a Nebraska school district had banned the use of gendered nouns. This reporter fact checked this claim during The Sandbox News‘s live coverage of this event and found that according to Snopes.com which cites an article from the Lincoln Star-Journal, the school district did not ban gendered nouns, nor did it order teachers to call students ‘purple penguins,’ or any other gender neutral term. He said that a decrease in marriage and increase in cohabitation threatens the social order, and warned against discrimination laws that violate the first amendment rights of Americans, referencing florist Baronelle Stutzman who was fined for refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.
Ben Diamond said that he was not advocating for either side of the issue, and became interested in it as a lawyer during one of his cases dealing with an estate. He provided background on the case that started the challenges to state laws that have met with overwhelming success in the court, Windsor v. U.S. (PDF link), which was a case that dealt with estate taxes. The Supreme Court found in a 5-4 opinion that Windsor was not provided equal protection under the law, and overturned the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Dr. Liebert was approaching the issue as a social scientist, and expressed concern about the effects of divisive issues like same-sex marriage on society. He told the audience that married couples are happier, have better sex lives, and the children of married couples are more likely to graduate from college. Children benefit from having married parents, including same-sex couples according to Liebert. Throughout the evening he recommended caution when looking at the statistics cited on both sides of the debate.
During the question and answer period one issue where Willard and Stemberger found agreement was on the subject of civil unions. Stemberger felt that turning marriage into a mere contract turns it into an ‘anything goes’ institution. Willard felt that the word, and the institution have importance, and that same-sex couples deserve the same opportunities as heterosexual couples. Dr. Liebert weighed in on how marriage benefits commitment and long term planning. See the discussion in the video below.
At the close of the event Institute director David Klement thanked the panelists and told the audience about the Institute’s upcoming Speed Date Your Local Leaders event. The follow up to last year’s popular event on Clearwater campus will be held at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg on April 22nd, see the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions website for further details. This event was covered on The Sandbox News live Twitter account, follow us for live coverage of events on campus and around Tampa Bay. See our playlist for all of our videos from the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions Same-sex marriage forum.