Head to head over marriage equality

Two legal scholars battled over marriage equality during a debate at Orange Coast College on Thursday.

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, argued as a proponent of marriage equality. His opponent, John Eastman, former Chapman School of Law dean, took the position that marriage is between a man and a woman.

The debate was the capstone event of OCC's Constitution Day, which consisted of various lectures and events stretched over three days. A 2004 law requires schools that receive federal funding to have some type of educational discussion about the Constitution on Sept. 17 each year, said Paul Asim, dean of social and behavioral sciences at OCC.

"It's an opportunity to learn about our Constitution and to become actively involved in civic affairs and to become engaged citizens," he said at the start of the debate.

Chemerinsky, an expert in constitutional law, federal practice, civil rights and civil liberties recently penned the book "The Conservative Assault on the Constitution."

Marriage equality "is a matter of basic human dignity," he said.

Eastman stepped down as dean of Chapman's School of Law in 2010 to pursue a bid for California attorney general and has taught courses involving constitutional law, property rights, legal history and the 1st Amendment.

He has ties to the National Organization of Marriage, a group that opposes same-sex marriage.

During the debate, Eastman argued against the U.S. Supreme Court's June ruling that struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The 1996 law denied federal benefits, such as Social Security survivor benefits, to gay couples who legally married in their states. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, in writing the majority opinion in the 5-4 decision, said the act violated the 5th Amendment's protection of equal liberty.

Eastman argued that the Supreme Court should have allowed the American public to decide the constitutionality of DOMA. He focused on procreation as a vital function of marriage and argued that that key element isn't biologically possible in same-sex unions.

"One of the reasons we have marriage is to procreate," he said.

Chemerinksy countered by raising questions about who the government allows to marry. He used the example of two individuals in their 50s being allowed to marry, even though they won't be able to have children.

"Marriage is not and never has been limited to those who have the desire to procreate," he said.

Eastman also pointed to the inherent idea that marriage is between a man and a woman, which he said is a cornerstone of society.

"It's an idea we've all been raised with," he said.

Chemerinsky countered, "To say we've always done something doesn't mean we should continue to do it that way."

Eastman said allowing same-sex couples to marry damages the institution of marriage, while Chemerinksy argued that it reinforces the importance of marriage in our society.

"There's no legitimate government purpose served in discriminating against gays and lesbians," Chemerinsky said.

Frank Salazar, a 26-year-old political science student at OCC, said that while he doesn't necessarily believe in same-sex marriage, he thought both scholars brought up valid points during the debate.

"It was refreshing to hear both viewpoints," he said.

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