The Anscombe Society is a student group formed with the explicit purpose of preserving and promoting traditional marriage on college campuses. Started at Princeton University, the Anscombe Society now has chapters at college campuses all across the United States.
The Stanford Anscombe Society (SAS) roughly models itself after its founding chapter.
The official website of the Princeton Anscombe Society claims to promote “intellectual engagement” on Princeton’s campus surrounding issues about marriage, identifying itself as a “student organization . . . dedicated to affirming the importance of the family, marriage, and a ‘proper’ understanding for the role of sex and sexuality”
In an interview with The New York Times, the Princeton Anscombe Society explained that their main purpose was “not pass moral judgement, only to inform.”
This statement is affirmed on their official website, which seeks to inspire “further discussion and understanding of this ethic on Princeton’s campus and in the broader community.”
Although SAS is similar to its Princeton counterpart, its founder, Ben VanBerkum ’14 identifies a prerogative more closely approximating a support group for like-minded students, rather than an environment for the debate of intellectual ideas.
Explained VanBerkum: “Our main goal is to provide a forum in which students who share our views can find support and can make friends who will support their choices.”
While VanBerkum anticipates that his group will foster intellectual discussion, SAS will primarily concern itself on campus with promoting “chastity and marriage.” As such, a central purpose for SAS will be to help like-minded students “find philosophical language to defend their actions in discussions with other students.”
A Heated Launch
The Stanford Anscombe Society launched its public presence on campus with a lecture entitled “Marriage Without Adjectives: The Same-Sex Controversy.” Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse gave the lecture on April 19.
Although it was not a university-endorsed academic lecture, Dr. Morse is a former Hoover Institution researcher. She also founded and leads the Ruth Institute, a non-profit which promotes marriage as a monogamous, heterosexual, and lifelong institution. Affiliated with Anscombe Societies across the country, the main product of the Ruth Institute is a weekly newsletter.
Dr. Morse’s main thesis was that the judicial establishment of marriage exists in the United States to preserve the welfare of children. Dr. Morse explained that heterosexual marriage is the “lynchpin” of society.
In her introduction, Dr. Morse spoke for the Anscombe Society when she explained that she was invited to speak in response to the culture of hook-ups dominating Stanford’s campus environment. She explained that the topic of same-sex marriage was related to this issue because both threatened the “natural” state of marriage, as a monogamous, lifelong, heterosexual social contract.
The basis of the talk was predicated on the notion that the heterosexual, “natural” elements of marriage have come under fire in modern society. Same sex marriages, Dr. Morse explained, like the hook-up culture on university campuses, have the potential to impact monogamous, heterosexual relations.
In Dr. Morse’s eyes, the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is fundamentally an act of protecting what she defined as objectively “natural” marriage.
Dr. Morse further connected her opinions about same-sex marriage to viewpoints on other social issues. For example, Dr. Morse stated during several points in her talk that the sexual revolution of the 20th century did nothing but contribute to the destruction of the modern family. She argued that not only did the sexual revolution contribute nothing but harm to American society, but the abortion debate also parallels and contributes to the threat of same-sex marriage.
Explained Dr. Morse: “The same-sex marriage debate is analogous to the brutality of the abortion regime.” Abortion, the sexual revolution, and the fight for same-sex marriage work to reduce the “institution of marriage” and contribute to the devaluation of “natural” heterosexual love in society. Perhaps the most controversial of Dr. Morse’s statements occurred when she argued that same-sex marriage has a “dehumanizing” effect on society.
As expected, the lecture generated a significant amount of controversy.
Information about the lecture was forwarded via email to activists on campus. Several politically-engaged students, as well as a number of LGBTQ students, showed up in protest. Their presence contributed to an active question-and-answer period at the end of the talk, during which audience members engaged in a heated debate with Dr. Morse over her contentious ideas.
It was unclear which members of the audience were members of the Anscombe Society and which members of the audience agreed with Dr. Morse’s positions. Only one audience member vocalized any support of Dr. Morse during the question-and-answer session.
VanBerkum did not make an appearance at the event. Ahead of the event however, he published a controversial op-ed entitled “Defending Traditional Marriage” in this publication. The op-ed generated generated significant debate and criticism.
Overall, the op-ed and event appear to have accomplished some of the Anscombe Society’s goals. Although members neither identified themselves nor expressed vocal solidarity with Dr. Morse’s ideas, the lecture in and of itself sparked debate and served as a forum for open discussion of same-sex marriage.
While it is unclear what and when will be the next Anscombe Society event, LGBTQ student supporters made it clear at the lecture that they will be present to further explore the topic of traditional marriage, with a many pledging to join the Anscombe Society itself to foster “the exchange of ideas.”