Uncivil DIscourse

“Values,” “scare tactics,” and “rights” were among the many themes touched upon during the course of a Stanford Political Union sponsored debate on Propositions 4 and 8. The debate, which took place on October 28th, consisted of two person teams—made up of various student leaders—who debated California’s Propositions 4 and 8, which address the issues of parental consent for abortion and the legality of gay marriage, respectively.

While the crowd was clearly against them, the two “Yes” teams managed to maintain their composure for most of the debate, admirably attempting to debate the policy ramifications of each proposal. However, each debate ultimately devolved into the slinging of overused and, for the most part, inaccurate labels.

The first debate focused on Proposition 4 and featured members of Stanford Students for Choice and Stanford Students for Life. Arguments on the “Yes” side focused on the importance of involving parents in an important decision regarding their daughter’s health, while the “No” side contended that in instances of poor relationships with their parents, daughters would turn to unsafe alternatives. After a worthwhile exchange about the policy realities of the Proposition, the debate ended with accusations of Planned Parenthood bashing. While a resolution was certainly not expected, this outcome was a far cry from the contentious yet reasonable, policy-based debate that had been promised.

The debate on Proposition 8 began in a much different way than the previous one had ended. A Stanford law student provided the opening arguments for the “Yes” side, stressing a focus on the legality of the issue. Unfortunately, this ideal approach quickly gave way to bickering about tradition and rights, which are generally irresolvable in a debate format.

Some interesting arguments did emerge, however, from the monotony. The “Yes” side reminded the crowd that Prop 8 would not affect gay rights—a civil union guarantees the same rights for all couples regardless of sexual orientation. They also pointed out that the proposition could have potential implications in regards to religious freedom. The “No” side left its opponents recoiling when it argued that same sex couples could raise children just as well as any other couple. A number of studies were cited on both sides, and those defending “Yes” ultimately acknowledged that the debate was still ongoing.

While the event was by no means a rousing success, each of the four teams managed to be informative and engaging at some point during the exchanges.

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