In response to the divisive topic of same-sex marriage, Broward College will host a Religious Liberty and Marriage Equality forum on its South Campus on Monday, October 13. The forum is part of the college's Humanities Initiative, which is designed to help students and community members learn how public policy decisions are informed and to promote dialogue across political party grounds.
According to Henry Mack, associate dean of academic affairs for Broward College, the event has been prompted because of the immense public interest in whether LGBT couples in Florida should be granted the right to marry.
"Many people in South Florida have difficulty understanding why a large portion of the population still opposes marriage equality. In short, the forum will provide the space within which the two sides can come to mutual understanding. The forum is not a debate about who is right or wrong; rather, it's about understanding the 'grounds' or 'reasons' for our politics and policies in an attempt to find common ground."
At the debate, Mack hopes the panelists will share their perspectives to provide a context as to why Florida has a ban on same-sex marriage and why it is currently being challenged. At the forum, the college hopes community members will critically analyze the issues surrounding LGBT rights, especially since several nationwide courts have ruled state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, and a recent poll Public Policy Polling indicates 75 percent of Florida voters are now in favor legally recognizing LGBT couples.
Among the distinguished panelists on next Monday's forum will be Michael Sheedy, executive director for the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, who will be representing the conservative argument against same-sex marriage. On the opposing side will be the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Howard Simon.
"I'm honored to be part of the conversation at Broward College," said Simon. "Bringing marriage equality to Florida is certainly important for the families we represent in the federal lawsuit currently challenging the state's ban, and all other families in similar situations.
Simon believes that no one will be harmed by recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples but that LGBT couples are harmed everyday that they are deprived of marital rights, such as receiving a deceased spouse's social security benefits or a spouse's pension benefits or the ability to cover a spouse with health insurance.
Religious groups are concerned that by recognizing same-sex marriage it will normalize homosexuality, which they believe to be reprehensible. These concerns and others will be explained in detail by Mr. Sheedy.
Mr. Simon, however, believes that religious liberty does not come with the right to discriminate and deprive others of rights.
"Some people fear the consequences of the civil rights revolution that we're a part of. They may fear that recognizing same-sex couples might violate their religious principles and because of this they want to hold on to the right to discriminate. All of this has been said before though, almost 50 years when [SCOTUS] struck down the prohibition against interracial marriage."
The forum will also be attended by attorneys such as Robert Alwine, Richard Milstein, and Caroline Mala Corbin, who will help community members understand the various arguments for and against legalizing same-sex marriage.
The event begins at 7 p.m. and will be followed by a reception in the Art Gallery on Broward College's South Campus.
For more information, contact the Broward College Humanities Department at 954-201-8892 or email SouthHumanities@broward.edu.