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Where does Exeter’s student populace weigh in on the debate? In the first in our series of articles covering Debating Society’s weekly events, Peter Tse provides Exeposé with the exclusive lowdown

A fortnight ago, Exeter University’s Debating Society was audience to an engrossing debate titled ‘This House believes in Gay Marriage.’ The packed audience was an indication of the vast interest in this matter. The Chair called order and the buzzing audience soon acquiesced. The curtains were flung open.

The support for this motion was started by Steve Gilbert, Lib-Dem MP for St Austell and Newquay, who immediately placed the opposition on the back-foot. His lofty challenge that it was actually their responsibility to debate against the motion, as opposed to him defending it, was a fine distinction with fine results.  Gilbert continued to eloquently increase the pressure by reminding us that “social emancipation has always had its opponents”. He pointed out that all minority groups, ranging from the disabled to ethnic groups, face discrimination in some form, and it is always struggled against and defeated.  His argument implored us to not forget that homosexual people are human and should not be categorized otherwise. One could not disagree with his five minute speech without feeling a bit bad about themselves as a person.

Gilbert was followed by Peter Spearman, member of Devon County Council’s LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Network. He started off ostensibly rather more slowly than Gilbert, telling us a bit about the work he did. The effect though was profound as the audience was beckoned into the deplorable culture of prejudice and victimisation that homosexual teenagers suffer. Spearman was a splendid foil to Gilbert, hailing equality and dispelling stigma; their personal and genuine arguments were irresistible. They left us with the thought: heterosexual teenagers can dream of marriage, then why can’t homosexual teenagers?

The Opposition was opened by the Daily Telegraph journalist Brendan O’Neill. His first claim was that the civil rights were merely a disguise for elitist and authoritarian bodies, with its snobbery towards the public and intolerance of dissent. His argument limply continued with the claim that the civil rights movement is not social emancipation in the sense that there has been no bloodshed, like during the American Civil War. It seemed that O’Neill’s attempt to besmirch the civil rights’ movement digressed from the key social issues that the Proposition presented them.

2nd Year Law student Rebecca Sellar went on to the theological and legal implications of supporting gay marriage. She raised the good point that laws inherently discriminate, in order to accommodate for different parts of the demography, hence “equality is not uniformity.” Yet her juridical arguments paled in comparison to the heartfelt and personal arguments of the Proposition. Arguments like “they are different kinds of marriage,” “gay couples can’t consummate (in the legal sense) a marriage,” “love is not the requirement of marriage” and that gay mmarriage is the “denigration of traditional marriage” from the Opposition was ridiculed by the Proposition. The latter point that marriage would be undermined as an institution was vehemently vilified and gave the impression that Opposition were being backward and very old-fashioned

In the end, the night turned out to be a rather one-sided affair. With the proposition led wilfully by the electrifying Steve Gilbert, they threw a passionate and genuine gauntlet into the ring of this fiery debate. The inferno ultimately proved too much for the opposition. A special mention goes towards Rebecca Sellar, part of the opposition, who had to single-handedly verbally spar with Gilbert and Spearman as her team was halved partway through proceedings. It was left to Gilbert to have the final say, even before the vote was opened up to the audience he confidently stated that there is just not enough sound arguments against gay marriage. The overwhelming vote for this motion by the audience was, at that point, a formality.

Debating Society’s weekly debates are on Friday in Amory’s Parker Moot room, 7.30 p.m.


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