On the Campus
January 25, 2006:
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 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
Gottesfeld ’07, a Woodrow Wilson School major, is from Los