Web Exclusives: On the Campus

January 25, 2006:

Voting for gay marriage

By Adam Gottesfeld ’07

The Undergraduate Student Government was once associated with endless discussions about issues like cheaper course packets and wireless Internet. But within the past few weeks, the USG has spurred heated debate throughout the student body by bringing the divisive issue of gay marriage to the center of campus politics.

In addition to the traditional list of candidates seeking office, the USG’s winter ballot included a referendum question asking students if they were in favor of the USG signing an amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiffs in Lewis v. Harris, a case on appeal before the N.J. Supreme Court that seeks marriage equality for same-sex couples. The Princeton Justice Project, a student group, authored the brief.

The referendum narrowly passed, with 51.6 percent of students voting in favor.

The ballot also contained a second question that asked students if they support the right of consenting adult couples to marry, regardless of sexual orientation; 73 percent of students voted in support of gay marriage. The USG decided to include it after extensive internal debate. Some representatives had argued that students who voted against the joining the court action, because they believed that the issue lay outside the USG’s mission, should still be able to express their support for gay marriage.

Discussions on campus focused less on the moral and constitutional arguments for and against gay marriage, and more on the concern that the USG should not take a stand on political issues. Opponents contended that if passed, the amicus brief referendum could set a dangerous precedent for the USG to debate contentious political issues, rather than topics more directly related to student life.

“We didn’t think it was appropriate for the USG to take a stand on this issue,” said Alex Maugeri ’07, president of the College Republicans. “The role of the USG is to influence University policy.”

Those in favor of the amicus brief referendum claimed that the issue of gay marriage directly affects the student body and so lies in the USG’s domain. They said that gay students at the University do not have the same rights in New Jersey as their straight peers, and as a result Princeton will have greater difficulty attracting talented gay students.

“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,” said Thomas Bohnett ’07, president of the Princeton Justice Project.

After the results were announced, President Tilghman joined the debate. “I don’t think it’s the USG’s role to take stances on issues that seem so distant from student-government issues,” she told The Daily Princetonian.

In in the wake of the referendum, debate over the issue of gay marriage threatened to shatter conservative unity on campus. The Anscombe Society proposed submitting an amicus brief on the side against gay marraige and asked the heads of the College Republicans and the Princeton Tory to pledge their organizations’ support. Both declined, however. “It is not good for our club to adopt a monolithic view,” Maugeri said.


ON A COLD DECEMBER morning outside the Frist Campus Center, a booming voice startled the blurry-eyed students trudging to their 10 a.m. classes. “I am Will Scharf and I am running for USG president,” Will Scharf ’08 yelled from atop the steps leading into Frist. From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Scharf held a “Filibuster for Change,” a 12-hour speaking marathon in which he challenged administrative policies ranging from grade deflation to the fire code. Freezing and fatigued, Scharf never stopped talking. He was determined to accomplish a feat unheard of in recent Princeton history: to win the USG presidency as a sophomore, without any prior USG experience.

Under the slogan “Scharf tells it like it is,” he openly criticized USG and administrative policies. He claimed that the grade deflation policy was flawed, that the four-year residential colleges were going to kill the eating clubs, and that the administration was ignoring student opinion. Scharf also hung up “wanted” posters featuring pictures of Nancy Malkiel, dean of the college, throughout the campus.

Scharf’s campaign fell short, however, as he missed the runoff election by 70 votes (Alex Lenahan’07 was elected USG president). “My campaign team and I knew from the start that we were fighting an uphill battle in every regard,” Scharf said.

Adam Gottesfeld ’07Adam Gottesfeld ’07, a Woodrow Wilson School major, is from Los Angeles.