ANDREW CARRUTHERS, President of the Literific sums up the Freshers' Debate held in the Union on Tuesday 18 September. coinciding with two opinion pieces published in the Gown on the gay marriage debate.
And so the London 2012 Games have come and gone. The collective hangover of once more. Well, luckily, the University’s debating chamber, the Literary and Scientific Society, stands ready to meet that demand in this, its 164th Session. Following a brace of informal hat debates held on the recent sixth form open days, the Society began its year of conventional debate with a Freshers’ debate, held in conjunction with the Students’ Union, on the heated issue of gay marriage in Northern Ireland.
The question remains topical, not just due to Lord Maginnis’s now infamous remarks, but also thanks to the fact that it was raised in OFMDFM Question Time on Monday 17th September. The DUP’s Junior Minister at the Department, Jonathan Bell, re-iterated his party’s position that gay marriage is an “oxymoron”, but also promised a draft for public consultation by the end of the year.
The Society was proud to welcome a range of diverse speakers on the topic from outside the immediate student body, including Colin Keenan, a Belfast City Councillor from the SDLP; John O’Doherty, of Equal Marriage NI and the Rev. Barry Forde, Queen’s University’s Anglican chaplain; as well as speakers from the University’s LGBT Society and political groups, in addition to Literific members. It is appropriate at this point to stress that all speakers were in attendance in a personal capacity, and n
ot claiming to speak on behalf of the organisations of which they are members.
The debate was most certainly lively, with a great deal of passion felt on both sides of the House. Mr O’Doherty and Cllr. Keenan both argued that the legalisation of gay marriage is part of a general trend towards greater equality, that would remove what they perceive as false perceptions about same-sex relationships. Matthew O’Connor, Secretary of QUB LGBT, questioned why it is appropriate for some religious conservatives to ‘pick and choose’ their morality, ignoring Old Testament laws concerning, for example, kosher meat, yet condemning homosexual relationships on similar evidence. Ms. Emily Walker was her usual fiery self, claiming that religion follows society since, like business, it must keep its customers, and that arguing with those who believe homosexual relationships (and, thus, gay marriage) are intrinsically wrong is like “playing chess with a pigeon”.
By contrast, a common theme of the opposition was a desire to expand civil partnership legislation rather than the concept of marriage. This would take the form of offering civil partnerships to all couples, which could then be blessed by a willing religious institution, but would offer no other legal or social benefits, thus emphasising the union of people, rather than the name attached to it. Mr. Forde claimed that all groups discriminate in favour of their values – just as some churches may be uncomfortable with blessing a homosexual union, gay rights groups, such as Stonewall, will never appoint a member of the Coalition for Marriage as a spokesperson.
Following an opportunity for the audience to contribute points to the speakers, the motion was put to a vote, and passed, receiving well over half the votes in favour. As a debate on a very controversial topic, despite instances in which perhaps more heat than light was shed, it remained cordial, well-informed and topical. As a debate to kick off the upcoming session, the wealth of speakers, points, questions and contributions from the audience augur well for the year ahead for the Literary and Scientific Society.
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