Gay rights activist Cheryl Jacques and Rep. John H. Rogers of Massachusetts went head to head in a debate hosted by the Student Entertainment Board and GEISORC discussing the difference between equal treatment of families and complete equality of rights.
Jacques is a U.S. politician who served for 11 months as the president of the Human Rights Campaign in 2004. Rogers is a democratic house representative from Boston, currently seeking re-election.
While Jacques said she supports the right of same-sex marriages, Roger said he believes civil unions should possess the same legal rights that accompany marriage.
“America has a wrong in need of a remedy,” Rogers said. “The wrong is that the laws of the federal government do not recognize the legal rights of same sex couples like the laws of some of our states. As a result, a married couple in a state has 1100 rights that are protected.”
Same sex couples only have 400 of the 1100 rights under the state of Washington, he said.
Jacques is representing an argument that is not as clear as many arguments against gay marriage, she said.
“This is the conversation that is far more difficult for the gay rights community,” she said. “America cut through the worst of this issue, but people are struggling.”
Throughout history, policies have targeted specific peoples, she said.
“Time and time again we have been here before,” Jacques said. "It is important to look at the historical context of the debate that is happening now for gay people in this country.”
With this, the moderator asked for questions from the audience. One audience member questioned the purpose of fighting over the difference between marriage and a civil union.
“Most people don’t know the difference between civil union and marriage,” Jacques said."First, let me tell you that you are not fighting over a word, you are fighting over the principle of equality.”
In 29 states, workers can presently be fired for being gay, she said. No agency talks about these issues.
“Are we fighting over a word?” she said. “No, we’re fighting over equality.”
America believes in the nuclear family, she said. America fashions its policies to help families. Unconventional families are left out.
Rogers said he believes the federal government's lack of recognition to state policies is a large problem in the issue. States continue to reform and the government with have to follow public opinion.
“I think this nation will be forced, that the congress will have to follow state examples and have full marriage benefits for same sex couples and opposite sex couples,” he said.
Another audience member brought up the connection between religion and marriage policies.
“Marriage has always been a part of people,” Rogers said. “We support a society that looks out for one another at home. I also think that marriage has not always needed government.”
Jacques presented the issue that not everybody wants to adjust policy.
“There are people who don’t want to solve problem,” Jacques said. “They don’t want equality for gay men and women.”
There is no definition of what marriage is, Rogers said. There has never been consistency.
“Where does religion come into this nation,” Jacques asked. “There is a lot of mixing going on. It’s a dangerous slippery slope. We have to be conscious of the fact that we have history of using religion inappropriately.”
Rogers said he believes the power for change in the states.
“If we can show the state that we can do it, then places like Washington D.C. can do the same thing,” Rogers said.