September 18, 2013

Gay marriage: “the intersection of morality and politics”

Charles Oliver

— “Love is an emotion, not a political statement,” says Matthew Hipps, an assistant professor of political science at Dalton State College.

Hipps spoke on gay marriage Tuesday night as part of the college’s annual Constitution Day program at Memorial Hall. More than 200 people attended the event.

“This is not so much a gay issue as an equality issue,” Hipps said.

Last year, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision to toss out a state ban on same sex marriage because it violated the Constitution’s due process and equal protection clauses. Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage, was passed by a majority of California voters in 2008. But state officials declined to appeal the decision. Proponents of the law tried to appeal the decision to toss it out. But this summer the U.S. Supreme Court ruled they did not have legal standing to defend it, effectively upholding the court’s decision to overturn the law.

On the same day the Supreme Court announced its decision on Proposition 8, it also overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as only between a man and a woman. The court found that the law violated the Constitution’s Due Process Clause. That law passed by large majorities in both chambers of Congress in 1996 and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. But it 2011, the Obama administration announced that it believed the law was unconstitutional and would not defend it in court.

Hipps noted that a majority of Americans now support or are not opposed to gay marriage but the issue still divides the country, with liberals, Democrats and independents tending to support same sex marriage and conservatives and Republicans tending to oppose it. He also noted that younger Americans are more apt to support same sex marriage while older Americans are more likely to oppose it.

Hipps said the question of gay marriage is divisive because it comes at “the intersection of morality and politics.”

Those who oppose gay marriage do so, he said, for religious reasons or because they believe gay marriage undermines traditional values and leads to moral decay. Those who support it, he said, see it as an issue of fairness and equality.

“There are over 1,000 rights that married couples have the right to act on,” he said, ranging from end-of-life decisions to child custody issue to tax policies.

“There are a lot of legal consequences to being married,” he said.

Hipps said he struggled with whether to present his views on the issue or just present the  moral arguments on both sides. But he said he decided he would talk about his own beliefs because he encourages his students to discuss and defend their beliefs.

“We live in a world where a majority of people now support gay marriage, and institutions should change to acknowledge that support,” he said.

During the discussion after his speech, audience members defended a number of points, with some arguing that the Bible condemns homosexuality, some supporting gay marriage and still others asking why the government should be involved in the issue of marriage at all.

Dalton State College student Jennifer Rodriguez said she thought the discussion was civil and respectful.

“Usually, it’s not that civil. But I think he set a good tone and people were respectful,” she said.

Nicole McDaniel, another DSC student, said she thought Hipps “handled everything perfectly.”

“Everyone has their opinion, and a lot of people feel strongly about (gay marriage). But I think he was prepared for people who disagree with him and handled it really well,” she said.