Sunday, October 23, 2005

Tory Debate No. 9: Marriage and State

On October 20, 2005, I attended my eighth Tory debate. This was the ninth debate of the year – I missed one a week earlier (a joint Tory-Liberal debate) because of Yom Kippur. The reader will also find that an account of the year’s seventh debate is also missing from my series of essays – I simply waited too long to write it up, discovering after about 500 words that I had forgotten the details of nearly every speech except my own.

This debate was to be in the Jonathan Edwards Common Room – a place I had never visited before. As the standard debate time of 7:30 approached, I installed my suit and was forced, thanks to the low temperature, to wear my long black overcoat as well. Cutting a somewhat imposing figure (as one of my suitemates remarked) I left my dorm a quarter-hour before debate time and went off in search of JE Commons.

One of the nice things I have come to rely upon in Yale life is the map available on the wall of any residential college just inside the entryway. Despite the absence of the little red “you are here” dot, they are still tremendously useful as far as locating the Common Room is concerned. After cleverly figuring out where on the map I was, I quickly found the Common Room, only fifteen yards away. I did not, however, go in, as there was a student practicing the piano and I couldn’t see any Tories.

I walked about for a few minutes in the general area, checking the map once again, and was soon reassured by the arrival of the former chairman, who was followed shortly thereafter by the secretary and chairman.

The chairman shared with us an invitation he had received from our daughter debate party, the Edmund Burke Society at the University of Chicago. They had invited us to attend the 200th debate caucus of their noble and “antient” [sic] society. We found the ancient spelling of “ancient” amusing, as well as their declaration of ancientness – they were founded by Tory alumni some years after the Tory Party itself was formed in 1969.

At seven thirty the pianist left and other Tories began to drift in. The chief whip brought his father along with him, a man who would apply his keen mind to our debate at several points during the evening.

Another freshman who had given a maiden speech a few debates back brought a friend along with him. The friend was a Brazilian whom, after being inundated for a few weeks with e-mail from all six parties, had decided that ours would be a good one to check out. Another guest (intermittently present) at the debate that night was the YPU’s floor-leader of the left.

After the customary bit of friendly milling around, the chairman’s gavel signaled the meeting’s coming to order.

I sat down next to the former chairman on the left side of the room. There were about fifteen of us present.

The chairman asked the secretary to read the minutes from last week’s debate – the one that I’d missed. The joint Tory-Lib debate had been on the subject of the unions. As the secretary recounted, we learned that the Libs do not have points of information, nor are they allowed to hiss at speakers. In addition, as it is their tendency to show up early and leave early, whereas Tories do the reverse, the evening ended in the unions being soundly defeated.

The secretary then read the night’s resolution: “Resolved: Separate Marriage and State.”

I found this resolution a little puzzling; I had assumed, beforehand, that this argument would center on the question of gay marriage. With that in mind, I had done a good deal of research on the topic, and was prepared to speak decisively against it, which I thought would put me in the resolution’s affirmative. When I got to the debate, however, I saw for the first time the recently printed whipsheet, which seemed to suggest that the morality of gay marriage was not at issue. This meant that the resolution didn’t say very much – those in the negative would simply argue that some connection between marriage and state was necessary.

I still hadn’t made up my mind on the resolution when the chairman called for first speeches in the affirmative. No one volunteered immediately, so the chairman decided to ask the provost if he was willing to give one.

The provost obliged, and came to the center of the room. He made a brief speech, arguing that the government should have no connection with marriage whatsoever, and that this way we would be free to define marriage however we want to – whether we turn to religion or something else. (The provost said that he himself was not a religious man, drawing hisses from myself and others). I found his suggestion that the definition of marriage is fluid disturbing, and his suggestion that we turn to various “other” sources for marriage amusing. I therefore posed him the question:

“Excluding, as the gentleman has done, both government and religion, how is he planning to get married?”

The provost’s answer was that he didn’t have a “solution” in this case, which was nice of him to admit but did make the point seem rather silly. He did, though, suggest that there was room for different definitions of marriage from different religions.

After being shelled by questions for a few minutes, the provost was thanked. The chairman asked for speeches in the negative. I didn’t see anyone raise his hand immediately, so I offered my services, and was recognized. This would be my first time giving an opening speech.

I had no remarks prepared in advance to use – I had simply been spurred to action by the provost’s remarks. I opened by saying that I had been unsure of which side to support until about four minutes ago, but that the idea that people should be free to manipulate the meaning of marriage was intolerable, and that government was therefore necessary to insure that the meaning of marriage would not be distorted. My speech was very brief, and I saw a look of mild surprise on the former chairman’s face as I declared myself open to questions.

The first question I got was from Mr. Prosol the Elder (as the chairman referred to him during the debate). His lengthy question (a short speech, really) discussed the origin of marriage and its existence independent of government. In the main, he was worried that government intervention could force the term “marriage” to apply to gay and polygamous unions.

I assured the gentleman in my answer that I was equally concerned about the protection of marriage, and that, much as I distrust government in general, a government under the control of the American People was the best way to insure that marriage would not be destroyed by people attempting to apply the term to whatever they want. (I realized that my argument, at this point, was incomplete, as just because someone says he is married, you don’t have to believe him unless the government grants the union legal status. Nevertheless, as I held the floor in the negative and nobody seemed to have thought of this yet, I decided it would be better not to bring it up). I did, however, state emphatically that the definition of marriage is static and is a product of religion, and that the government can only be used to protect the religious definition.

I was then asked by the visiting floor-leader of the left if I would still allow religion to define marriage if, for example, the Anglican Church were to authorize gay marriage (as it seems to be near doing).

“I would say that if the Anglican Church were to do such a thing, they would have gone insane, ceasing to be a religion and becoming instead a whacko cult. Religion is based on tradition, and that is not something one can vote to change. The Anglican Church could (and might) also vote that God doesn’t exist, but that decision like the former one would have no bearing on religion itself.”

Everyone seemed to like my answer, excepting the floor-leader of the left. After a few more questions, I was thanked and resumed my seat next to the former chairman.

The chairman asked for a speech in the affirmative, and a visiting upperclassman was recognized. Having misremembered the resolution, however, his speech was actually in the negative (on the same side as mine had been). The thing about his speech, however, was that I violently disagreed with it. He argued that government intervention was necessary in order to insure that people who wanted to get married could – though he didn’t exactly care what sort of “marriage” it was.

I would continue through the evening to be swayed from side to side by the speeches – each new statement would repel me into the opposite camp. Only occasionally would a speech contain worthwhile points.

A very interesting and typically hilarious speech came from the SSCY, who claimed that he would just as soon get rid of marriage (as the Scandinavian countries have effectively done). Nevertheless, if we are to protect marriage as what it is, it would seem better to leave the government out of it, as their power to protect marriage is not nearly as great as their power to damage it.

The SSCY’s speech did give me a chance to use some of my pre-debate notes, in the form of a question (if one wants to make a little speech during question time, he can simply make a statement and tack “would the gentleman care to comment on this?” to the end of it). I was able to point out first that the essential abolition of marriage in the Scandinavian countries was accomplished thanks to their legalization of gay marriage, which has had a deleterious effect on real marriage. The result of this is that married childbirth there is now a minority phenomenon, and this absence of family life has lead to a major increase of what I called “thuggery” on the streets.

As the evening drew on, a major highlight was the chairman’s speech in the negative, which was notable for his saying that people, if not somehow chained together, would tend to fly apart like so many “pieces of gas.” That particular expression drew much laughter from the body, and, while the acting chairman did rule subsequent mixed metaphors out of order, this continued as a theme for the rest of the evening.

The night’s closer was a second speech from a freshman. Despite it’s being around 10:15, violent hissing on the part of the body failed to dissuade him from giving his speech, in which he examined the “pieces” of burning gas that make up stars and compared this to fiery and unstable love, untempered by marriage. Though we were getting a little away from the resolution, the humor of the closing moments was well worth it.

Following his speech, the chairman quickly went through the formality of asking for first, second, and even third speeches (as one fellow had already given a second speech, it was in theory necessary to invite him to make a third, if he felt so compelled). Fortunately, there were no more volunteers.

The chairman selected an acting sergeant at arms, and the body was divided. I had considered abstaining, but reflected upon the fact that (whether for better of for worse) I had never encountered a topic on which I wasn’t able to make up my mind. I decided therefore to interpret the resolution in its most basic (but relatively meaningless) sense, which was to suggest that marriage cannot properly survive without at least some form of government recognition.

I stood on the negative side of the room, and saw that I was heavily in the majority. With a final vote of 14-4 with one abstention, the resolution decisively failed.

Following that declaration by the chairman, the motion was made that we adjourn to Yorkside “as is traditional.” The motion was seconded and our caucus was declared adjourned. It was our longest debate of the year (up to the current point).

As we began the friendly post-debate milling around session, one of the freshmen there walked over to the piano at the end of the room and began to play Beethoven’s Opus 2. no. 3. In a few minutes I was at the pianoside with another freshman, watching the fellow play. I saw an opportunity to give my own fingers a workout, and asked the piano player if he knew anything with stride bass. He said he did not, and graciously asked me to demonstrate, which I was more than happy to. I thus drew a crowd playing the piano-roll transcription of Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me.” We chose to ignore the “no playing after 10PM” sign hung over the piano and decided that quietish music might be permitted until around 10:50. The piano was a Steinway and the action was lovely – one of the best I’d ever played (there are more than enough disappointing Steinways on campus – I’ve already found most of them).

As the chairman commanded “to Yorkside” I cut the last chorus short and grabbed my overcoat off the rack. We arrived after a quick but chilly walk.

There were ten of us for the Yorkside snack. We ordered some garlic bread to be shared by the community and I split a mint milkshake with two other freshmen. I sat across from the former chairman at the rightmost of the five two-man tables that had been pushed together to accommodate us. We spent most of the evening in discussion of religion, and I was tremendously impressed that the former chairman was familiar with the English version of many of the passages I quoted in Hebrew. The mutual exchange of the details of each other’s religion was becoming the traditional theme at Yorkside for the both of us. We also discussed the future plans of one the bordering freshman, who planned to earn a living writing but to make his life’s work improving Kings College in New York. Far more important, he looked forward to being a good father and educating his children.

It was nearly midnight when we paid our bill. I walked back to my dorm with two freshmen and the chairman, parting their company at High Street. It was time to start looking forward to next week’s debate.


At 8:52 PM, Blogger Janelle said...

I am supposed to be cleaning my rooom presently. When I was little I used to reply to my parents requests to do chores with: "When I am married I am NEVER EVER going to clean my room." Marriage is a very serious and wonderful thing, and to the young girl that I was, I took it to be the very epitome of being grown up. Plus, it was (and is) oh so much fun to think about weddings and baby names and other cutsie stuff.

Lately, society has started to view marriage as just a tradition. Oh, it is a tradition, but it's more than that. It is a holy covenant between God and a man and a women. Tradition has made marriage an intricate part of society, but it is a holy covenant-- not bound to the laws of man, but to the laws of God.

Since marriage answers to a higher authority, then it is only in the best wishes of a government if it adopts marriage as a legal and binding institution. Not as much as to protect marriage, but as to further emulate what has been created, established and ordained by God.The state's purpose in the business of marriage isn't to be the highest authority on the matter, but to be in acknowledgement that there is a higher authority on the matter.

I myself look forward to getting married. It seems very aggreable indeed. Some of my friends say that my own puritanical ideas about marriage are void of any true love or passsion. Clearly they've never looked at Song of Songs.

P.S. I am going to D.C next February for a conference. It isn't super-cold on the east coast is it?

At 7:29 AM, Blogger Janelle said...

Wow Gello! Insightful thinking, the more moms that work from home the better!


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