As I entered Feather River College’s gay marriage debate on the evening of Wednesday, Dec. 9, I began to wonder—not for the first time—if I should have requested a bulletproof vest when I signed up for this job.
I was reminded of a friend’s Facebook profile, which has featured the same ever-pressing question for as long as I can remember, “When the ($@&!) is it going to be torches and pitchforks time?”
As I walked into the Town Hall Theatre I wondered if that fateful moment had arrived for my small hometown.
The event’s moderator, District Attorney Jeff Cunan, did little to alleviate my fears when he informed the crowd that the last FRC debate, which focused on the most recent presidential race, featured a group of anarchists hanging out in the lobby.
He added that he had held out some hope that this year’s topic would be less divisive before quipping, “It’s just gay marriage, what could be less controversial than that?”
As you can tell, based upon the fact that you’re reading this article and not one about the Town Hall Theatre burning to the ground with one ill-prepared and foolishly unarmed reporter inside, the event was actually quite peaceful and respectful on all sides to the credit of the residents of our county.
There were no townhall disruption crews yelling fear-based chants, no fistfights in the audience and no offensive derogatory remarks shouted.
I think FRC deserves a lot of credit for the civility of the event, because the college took several intelligent measures to keep the event under control.
The audience was made aware of the fact that FRC students were spread out throughout the crowd as security.
FRC ran a tight ship, with a very structured event that included audience questions but kept the debate moving and avoided confrontation between audience members and debaters.
The judges were given strict numerical grading systems that they had to adhere to for each argument.
This system kept them so busy keeping track of a series of benchmarks that they had little time to think about their own emotions or beliefs.
I know this because I spoke to my esteemed colleague, Feather Publishing’s Sports Editor Shannon Morrow during the intermission.
Morrow had displayed a high level of moral character and a complete lack of sanity or sense of self-preservation by inexplicably signing up to be a judge at this event.
I shook the poor fool’s hand at the halfway point in the event and told him I was impressed to find that his head wasn’t yet on a stake outside the theatre, but also noted I would reserve my optimism until after he returned a verdict and attempted to exit the building.
To the untrained eye it might seem the judges were chosen merely for their intelligence and ability to be impartial, but there was obviously a deeper purpose to their selection.
With an eight-person panel featuring an attorney, football coach, human resources director and a teenage girl, there was no level of drama or carnage that could make this group bat an eye.
I was confident that if Plumas County erupted into anarchy that night, they might not be able to rebuild society, but they could have easily placed blame, filled out the paperwork and limited liability.
Now to the debate: I’m not going to lie and say that every word spoken by audience members and debaters was sheer brilliance and that my audio recording of the event can be sent around the globe resulting in all religions merging into one and world peace being achieved.
There were moments when the word freedom was used so loosely by both sides that it lost all meaning, and people seemed incapable of agreeing on the most basic aspects of our country’s history at times, but the debate also brought up new views and angles on the issue.
It was obvious the students hadn’t merely watched C-SPAN for a week to repeat the views of politicians with significantly less knowledge of history, morality or theories of American governance.
I’ll skip the suspense and allow any kill-the-messenger-types more time to plot my demise by telling you right now that the team arguing in favor of gay marriage was declared the winner independently by both the panel of judges and a separate audience vote.
Their arguments, research and quotes were simply more compelling.
The pro-gay-marriage team opened with a quote by United States Senator and Union Army General Carl Schurz, “From the equality of rights springs the identity of our highest interests. You cannot subvert your neighbor’s rights without dealing a dangerous blow to your own.”
The team followed up with a stirring statement from one of its debaters.
“As a U.S. Marine I took an oath to protect and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. An enemy does not necessarily have to be a person or an organization. It can also be an idea.
“Any idea that directly attacks or degrades the equal rights of any citizen is such an enemy to the Constitution.”
He later argued, “We are not attacking the traditional family. We are, in fact, defending it. The traditional family exists only because a family is free to raise children based on personal values.
“We’re defending the tradition of a family free of government intervention, free of a government that intrudes and defines what values are.”
The anti-gay-marriage team argued civil unions should be allowed but marriage should be separate.
The pro team responded that the Supreme Court decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education found that separate was inherently not equal.
The anti team also contended children would be exposed to more knowledge of homosexuality in school if gay marriage was approved, and this would make it more difficult for parents to control curriculum or shape a child’s beliefs.
The pro team contended tolerance of homosexuality had been taught in school for over half a century. They also pointed out they were arguing for civil marriages, the right to a certificate of marriage given by the state, and that religious institutions had the right to decide what marriages they performed or recognized.
One of the more interesting audience questions came from Quincy-Pioneer Elementary School principal Bruce Williams who addressed the pro gay marriage team.
“Your comparison of civil rights based on race ignores the fact that homosexuality is a chosen situation, please comment.”
The pro gay marriage team responded that biological studies had proven factors in the brain affect who someone is attracted to and that the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, and American Association of Pediatrics all agreed homosexuality wasn’t a choice but was linked to genetics and hormonal factors while in the womb.
Another defining moment of the debate occurred when one of the debaters answered a question about how a parent would deal with her child being homosexual.
“My son is 20 years old. He was gay as far back as I could remember.
“You love them, irrevocably, undeniably, no matter what. You love your child, that’s the best you can do, and you fight for their rights.”
The winning team’s closing arguments consisted of that woman speaking more about the hardships her son faced growing up in a small town. Another debater explained his mother and aunt raised him and that claims that being raised by people of only one sex was damaging to a child were offensive to him and to children raised by single parents everywhere.
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