Monday, December 12, 2005

Princeton University Student Government to submit amicus brief in gay marriage court case

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From The Times: Campus says yes to gay marriage Monday, December 12, 2005 By P.G. SITTENFELD PRINCETON BOROUGH - Most people associate Princeton University with eating clubs, not activism. And student concerns are usually about grades, not matters of state. But this past week the divisive issue of gay marriage found its way to the center of campus politics at what is often considered the most conservative of the Ivy League schools. Princeton's Undergraduate Student Government (USG) winter ballot - which normally consists solely of candidates for office - featured a referendum question asking students if they thought the USG should sign an amicus brief on behalf of plaintiffs in Lewis v. Harris, a case seeking marriage equality for same-sex couples. The case is currently on appeal in the New Jersey Supreme Court. In a tight vote, with heated lobbying from supporters on both sides of the issue, 51.6 percent of students voted in favor of signing the friend-of-the-court brief while 48.4 percent voted against it. "Princeton's LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) students are currently second-class citizens under the law," said junior Tom Bohnett, president of the Princeton Justice Project, an undergraduate organization that attempts to address a range of perceived injustices. "This vote was a test of how much Princeton students value and are willing to substantiate one of the fundamental civil rights issues of our time." The ballot included a second question that asked students whether they support the right of consenting adult couples to marry, regardless of sexual orientation. The purpose of the question was to allow students who felt the USG should not be addressing divisive political issues and, therefore, voted against the amicus brief to still have an opportunity to express support for gay marriage. Seventy-three percent of students said they support same-sex marriage. "If people outside the university only saw the results of the referendum vote they might think we were a campus that's hostile toward gays," said sophomore Courtney Mazo. "Princeton already has a stigma of being too conservative, but I thought the results of the second question show that we're a fairly progressive student body." Opponents of the first ballot question said the disparity in the results of the two questions reflects a sentiment that the USG should stick to dealing with issues such as dining, housing, and academics. "The USG is a body that's supposed to try to influence university policy," said junior Alex Maugeri, president of the Princeton College Republicans. "It's not its role to influence state policy." Supporters contend the issue of gay marriage does directly affect the university. "Princeton's at a competitive disadvantage in attracting talented gay high school students because those students won't have the same rights (in New Jersey) as their straight peers," said senior Chris Lloyd, president of his class, a member of the Princeton Justice Project and who is gay. "Those students will be inclined to go to Harvard, where same-sex marriage is recognized under Massachusetts law, or Yale where civil unions are recognized by the state of Connecticut." While acknowledging those points, opponents of the USG action question where the student government will draw the line on taking up national political issues. "Next week are we going to vote on a referendum about the war in Iraq, and the week after that the legalization of marijuana?" Maugeri said. "This will all sabotage the effectiveness of the USG by making it beholden to all sorts of political agendas." Other students believe the vote was a small step toward a more socially conscious, politically engaged student government. "The USG deals first and foremost with Princeton," said senior and student body President Leslie Bernard-Joseph. "But you can tell people's opinions are slowly changing about what the role of USG should be, what issues we should address and how activist we should be." While addressing national political issues is rare for the USG, it is not unprecedented. In 2003, students voted in favor of supporting affirmative action in college admissions. "Because something is divisive or political, we shouldn't shy away from it," Lloyd said. "Princeton has some of the best and brightest students, and when we speak up with our combined voice, the world listens." Original source