Two University of Wisconsin student organizations centered around religious concepts tackled controversial topics during a debate sponsored by the Wisconsin Union Society and Politics Committee last night.
Badger Catholic and the Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics participated in the event, which drew more than 150 people. Four members represented each organization.
The debate began with the issue of same-sex marriage. The AHA team defended the idea that same-sex couples should receive equal rights as opposite-sex couples, while Badger Catholic’s team said marriage is about more than being in a loving and committed relationship.
“Marriage is the union between a man and a woman that is given to us by biology and by God,” said Matt Bayer, a fourth-year UW graduate student representing Badger Catholic. “This does not mean that same-sex couples cannot raise children well; it just means that if we allow this to happen we are blurring the line to what marriage is.”
AHA member and UW freshman Quinn Heck disagreed, arguing he could not see any “moral reason why this shouldn’t be made legal in our secular society.”
The debate then turned to abortion, with the main argument between the two groups focusing on where to draw the line on when a fetus becomes a person.
Badger Catholic representatives argued the fetus is a person at the moment of conception, while AHA suggested various points along the line of development.
“A person is more than just reflexes. Until brain waves are developed, a woman should have the full right to terminate a pregnancy if she deems it is necessary,” said Michael Ramuta, a UW junior and AHA member.
After heated ping-ponging on what constitutes a fetus and the moral grounds for abortion, the contestants turned to embryonic stem cell research.
AHA’s representatives said they believed in the use of stem cell research because of the promising place it holds concerning research for current diseases, while Badger Catholic’s team said it does not support this type of research because it harms human life.
“Every human life is sacred and embryonic cells are alive. I do not believe that the end justifies the means,” said Mindy Wesely while defending Badger Catholic’s point.
The final topic debated was contraception.
AHA supports the use of contraception and sees it as a modern technology and not an issue of debate, while Badger Catholic said sex is more than just a physical act – its purpose being procreation – and therefore methods of contraception should not be necessary.
Every member of the audience was provided a debate questionnaire with the topics to fill out their opinions on the issues both before and after the debate.
Many audience members did not leave the event with different opinions than they originally had but said their own beliefs were instead strengthened.
UW sophomore Emily Hilts said she found the event fascinating and thinks attending similar events is an important part of the college experience.
“I personally like to be confronted with the viewpoints of other people because it ensures that I have a solid understanding of my own opinions,” Hilts said.