Vanderbilt medical students urged to defeat gay marriage ban

By Craig Boerner

A prominent Vanderbilt law professor, the former president of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) and two other distinguished panelists urged about 200 Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM) doctors-in-training to defeat a state constitutional amendment that would definitively rule that marriage is a union between a man and woman.

The panel, “Legalizing Discrimination: A Panel Discussion on Marriage Equality,” was organized by the American Medial Students Association, the VUSM Gay/Straight Alliance, the VUSM Office for Diversity, and Physicians for Human Rights and SOCIETI.

The group spoke Thursday Sept. 28 on the Vanderbilt campus and featured Vanderbilt law professor Ellen Clayton, M.D., co-director of the Vanderbilt Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society; former GLMA President Christopher Harris, assistant professor of Pediatrics at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital; Comprehensive Care Center Director of Education Victoria Harris and Vote NO on 1 campaign manager Randy Tarkington.

Eight states have placed similar amendments on their respective ballots for the Nov. 7 election; Amendment I would further outlaw gay marriages in Tennessee while easing advocate concerns that the existing ban could be overturned in court.

“The fact is that it is illegal now and the whole point of this amendment is just to make it more illegal,” said Clayton.

Clayton went on to say, from a lawyer’s perspective, that the amendment “clearly has nothing to offer other than just plain meanness.”

The amendment, one of two on the ballot, requires a majority vote from persons also voting in the Governor’s race to pass. It is expected to pass in Tennessee and has the support of Democrat and Republican frontrunners in both the Gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races.

Married persons enjoy 1,100 federal and state rights not available to persons prevented from marrying by law, panelists said.

Harris, who spoke last fall to U.S. Senators at a Senate Sub Committee on the Judiciary who were having hearings on the federal Marriage Protection Amendment, told those Senators that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) found that there are no relevant studies of the effect of parental sexual orientation on children that show any measurable effect on the quality of parent-child relationships or the children's mental health and successful socialization.

Harris is a gay African-American and has a four-year-old daughter. He has been a pediatrician for some 20 years.

“It is incumbent on us as health care providers to provide health care for all people,” Harris told the future doctors.

College students around the country have come out in opposition to the amendment, panelists said, with figures ranging 60 percent opposed at Vanderbilt to 75 percent of Hamilton College students in New York.

“Fear doesn’t work on young people,” Tarkington said.

“This generation believes in everyone being included. By enacting this amendment now, we really are giving our future leaders something they don’t want.”

“I would like to think there is a difference between the definition of marriage in religion and the state,” said Andrea Li, Vanderbilt Medical Student (VMS) II. “The state isn’t supposed to speak for religion and religion has the choice as to whether they define it as marriage or not.”

Health care professional organizations including the American Medical Student Association, American Medical Association, American Association of Pediatrics and the American Psychiatric Association support the right to same-sex marriage, said event organizer Nina Glass, VMS II. 

The American Association of Pediatrics published a study about the benefits of extending equal rights to same-sex couples in July 2006. 

During the question and answer session one student asked why the opposition was not invited to the event.

“I would have liked to have had some [persons in support of the amendment] on the panel,” Glass said.

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