On Monday around noon, I was lucky enough to catch the debate being held for Civic Awareness Week. I hadn’t been aware of the debate beforehand, I just happened to be getting lunch at the time, and thought I’d check it out. I’m really glad I did, because it was one of the best debates I’ve seen in a long time. There was a representative from College Democrats, Republicans, Libertarions, and suprisingly, the GLBTA services. I was a bit confused when I saw that at first. They have their own party now? Is is possible to vote straight-ticket gay? How ironic would that be? But, as I learned later, it was not meant to be a solely political debate. There was supposed to be another group represented, but the GLBTA just happened to be the only other group who showed besides the political ones.
The ASUSU people had a list of questions for the panel of representatives. The topics included the war in Iraq, health care reform, gay marriage, etc. The usual list of questions you would expect. For the most part, everyone’s answers were very rational and well thought out. All the speakers made sure to distinguish their personal opinions from their groups opinions, which I thought was fantastic. Even the Republican was sounding level headed and reasonable. (Sorry guys, you usually kind of annoy me. It’s the truth.) Until, of course, it got to gay marriage.
“I am for civil unions, but I believe that gay marriage undermines the sanctity of marriage. It is a religious institution.” Now, I’m paraphrasing here, but it doesn’t really matter. This is the same general response you will here from anyone who opposes gay marriage, no matter what their political party. Not only did hearing this irk me as a decent human being, it irked me on another level as an atheist. I knew I needed to speak up.
When Spencer Lee handed me the mic, I was a little nervous about what I was planning to say, but I took a deep breathe and began. “My question is for the Republican. If marriage is a religious institution, why can I get married as an atheist?” He looked a bit taken aback. “Are you an atheist?” he asked. Moment of truth: “Yes, I am,” I said, throwing as much confidence into my words as possible.
There was a collective “Oh, snap!” from the audience. The Republican wiggled a bit, and said something about it not mattering, as long as I was marrying a man. (While he was saying this, I made a point of holding Anna’s hand.)
I don’t tell you all this just to blow my own horn. I certainly wasn’t the only one asking great questions and pointing out the fallicy of the idea of “the sanctity of marriage”. The thing I want to point out is that I was given a chance to use my atheism for a good cause. Speaking up like I did that day goes against my general view towards debates: I don’t care, because it isn’t worth fighting about. I try to avoid debates about religion because they are a waste of time. No one will be conviced on either side, and everyone just gets upset. But in this case where standing up did make a difference. I have the same rights a Christian does to marry. Homosexual couples don’t. I had an opportunity to use my atheism to point out hypocrisy, and let me tell you, it felt great.