News | Student Life

CU Dems protest family and marriage conference

The Columbia University Democrats protested a conference that considered marriage and family, contesting a featured address at the event that argued marriage may only be between a man and a woman. The Family in Modern Society Conference at Columbia University, featuring scholars whose research argued for the “importance of family to the continued success of American society,” prompted members of the student group to arrive early in the morning on Saturday outside Lerner Hall, where they passed out fliers throughout the afternoon. But the bulk of the day’s activity came in the form of an in-conference silent protest against a speech delivered by Sherif Girgis, a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at Princeton and J.D. candidate at Yale, whose article on the subject was originally published in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. As Girgis began his speech, CU Dems members and other students held up signs expressing their support for same-sex marriage, with slogans such as “Family is family, love and devotion are always equal” and “People like you are why LGBTQ teens are five times as likely to attempt suicide.” “The point was to tell the rest of the community that this was not the general consensus of the campus,” said CU Dems activist Nikita Ash, BC ’16. In his speech, Girgis argued that while people’s life choices and partners should be respected, redefining the institution of marriage for same-sex couples based on emotional connection opens the doors for other redefinitions that include, for example, “threples” (three-way couples) and other uncommon life companionships. Girgis also addressed the issue of equality, saying that preventing certain people from getting married was not discriminatory, but rather indicative of a definition of marriage that precluded homosexual or polygamous relationships. “We don’t think that denial of marriage is a denial of equality,” Girgis said. “Using marriage law as a stamp of social approval comes from a certain vision of marriage.” Although they were vocal in their disapproval of Girgis’s message, members of the CU Dems stressed that their silent protest was not an attempt to smother free speech, but rather to peacefully express disagreement. “We won’t stifle, but we will let it be known that we do not find this agreeable,” CU Dems member Melissa Quintana, CC ’16, said. “It was very respectful, and we were not infringing on their rights while exercising our own.” Some members of the audience, however, criticized the tactics of CU Dems, and said they felt a critical and intellectual discussion was being treated in an emotional, knee-jerk manner. Jamie Boothe, CC ’15, argued that because the conference was a space set aside for intellectual discussion, it was hard to justify protesting during the conference itself. “The actual [outside] protest I think is fine, and protesting is about as Columbian as Lit Hum,” Boothe said. On the other hand, he said, “Once you enter that room, you’re entering an intellectual space and have a duty to be there only if it’s for intellectual and critical discourse.” Despite some controversy, others in attendance said that they felt that Girgis’ address and the question-and-answer session that followed were of a high intellectual caliber. One of the earlier speakers, Paul E. Kerry, a professor of history at Brigham Young University, praised the civility of discourse throughout the day. Luke Foster, CC ’15, a Spectator opinion columnist who also helped publicize the conference, agreed with Kerry. “I was worried from the tone of the Facebook conversations that it would be vitriolic, but I was impressed by the bearing and critical discussion,” he said. “Everyone benefits from hearing the other side.” luke.barnes@columbiaspectator.com | @ColumbiaSpec

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Jason Stout posted on

I'm definitely not a Republican, but the CU Dems went much too far this time. As the author said, protesting outside is fine. However, reserving a large number of seats so that others were precluded from joining the debate is not.

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Anonymous posted on

please, maybe you should have gotten upset about this tactic when it was considered radical .... in the 19th century.

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Anonymous posted on

No, doing things like that is not okay.

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Anonymous posted on

I'd just like to make sure that there is no confusion - there were many, many empty seats at the event even with our presence, and we made up a large majority of the crowd. If it had been the case of preventing others from attending, I would understand this point, but that just was not the case. We, like the rest of the people in attendance, respectfully filled out the index cards provided for the purpose of asking questions, and were thanked repeatedly by the hosts for both their polite manner and the insightful, interesting debate they induced. With all due respect, it is fairly clear that you did not attend the event, as demonstrated by the falseness of the assertions you have made.

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Anonymous posted on

Your characterization is very fair--your group behaved admirably throughout. I think the real shame is that more of the Columbia community did not avail themselves of this opportunity to hear a minority viewpoint.

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Anonymous posted on

I suggest you read Kyle Dontoh's op-ed on the conference- it goes into the matter of empty seats, which is rather important, in further detail.

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Anonymous posted on

damn that jamie boothe kid is a huge tool.

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Anonymous posted on

No, he's a polite and respectful person, he's just a *bit* misguided and sheltered

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The Dark Hand posted on

Honestly, Jamie, you defend your point with a much more level head than these butthurt liberals even if I don't agree with you.

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Anonymous posted on

I know him. No he's not.

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Anonymous posted on

Maybe Columbia should mandate that freshman students be required to take a course on how to engage in intellectual discourse in a university setting. The predictable shallow and childish whining of self-satisfied immature minds -- students whose idea of engagement is posters and protests to get what they want -- fails completely in the mission of a great university.

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Anonymous posted on

well, aren't all the anti-equality folks out here in full swing to defend their totally valid viewpoints

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Anonymous posted on

I suppose if a conference came claiming to to present an "intellectual discourse" on the intrinsic intellectual inferiorities of different races, you would urge us to come and listen, too? Idiot.

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Anonymous posted on

dis some excellent reportages

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Anonymous posted on

You can't silence and protest every speaker. Other people are allowed to voice their opinions too. You are protesting to get your point heard, yet also protest to prevent other people from speaking. It is a conference where different points of view are to be heard.

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