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Column: The bridge to nowhere

Robert Carpenter: How student leaders abuse and misuse ‘traditional family values’

Published: Monday, April 1, 2013

Updated: Monday, April 1, 2013 16:04

Four words uttered during the March 20 Student Senate meeting stood my hair on end and sent chills down my spine: “Traditional family values center.”

It’s the resurgence of nightmares past, the rebirth of Student Senate’s dismal spring 2011 campaign — a legacy that survives only in the repressed memory of those who watched the carnage unfold.

The GLBT Funding Opt-Out Bill asks that students who object to the GLBT Resource Center “for religious purposes” be able to “opt out of paying an amount equal to their share of the Center’s funding from their fee and tuition bills,” a bank-breaking $2.

The alternative communicated by the bill’s author: establish and maintain a “traditional family values center,” an annual commitment of tens of thousands in student fees.

“There is not a traditional family values center that will promote the opposite of what the GLBT center promotes,” argued the bill author. “Since we are funding one of those and not the other one, I believe that students should be able to choose whether to pay for it or not.”

It apparently doesn’t matter that the GLBT center effectively supports marginalized student population, while I have yet to meet the student who says, “You know what I could use? A full-time resource center to tell me that boys are supposed to like girls” (I assume this is what the “opposite of the GLBT center” looks like).

It also doesn’t seem to matter that Senate is powerless to change this fee structure. Even if the bill passes unanimously; even if the student body president signs it with magic ink; even if the spirit of E. King Gill blesses it and Reveille personally delivers the papers to Loftin’s office, the text will be used by administrators for nothing more than a spirited game of paper football.

So why bother writing, committee-ing, debating and voting on a bill that has no realistic future?
Look at the timing.

This debate coincides with Supreme Court arguments regarding GLBT rights, as confirmed by everyone’s Facebook news feed. The bill is a thinly veiled attempt to localize the greater marriage debate, attracting personal media exposure to senators adept at this propagandizing trick.

Students must resist the temptation to see the GLBT Funding Opt-Out Bill as pitting one set of religious, moral or political beliefs against another. There’s nothing inherently wrong with “traditional family values,” however they might be defined for whomever might want to define them.

The problem is that this bill and the mythical, impractical, unnecessary values center are little more than a proxy through which some wage a war of appropriations against the GLBT Resource Center.

I am an advocate of student involvement in University governance, but I wonder who dreamed up the notion that individual students should have autonomous oversight of every penny that goes to A&M. Senators argue that mandating this fee restricts students’ right to free (financial) speech at a public institution. Courts have already ruled that mandatory fees restrict free speech “minimally and indirectly” — borrowing from Kania v. Fordham –— and that this speech limitation is not enough to require opt-out alternatives.

In other words, it’s a trivial objection.

Another flaw in the proposition, there is no pragmatic way to separate the genuinely “religious” student from the opportunistic stingy student, both of whom withhold their $2 share. In essence, “principled” is indistinguishable from “miserly.”

Even if useful for nothing else, the Opt-Out Bill successfully communicates that GLBT students’ health and well-being is of little significance to many of their peers.

Duly noted. Thanks for the reminder nobody needed.

The 2011 equivalent to this bill, the “Sexual Education Equality in Funding Bill,” passed Senate with a 22-21 vote before the student body president’s veto halted its controversial blitzkrieg. If the 2013 bill emerges from committee early this week, it will be debated and voted on Wednesday evening.

This provides two opportunities for senators to send the Opt-Out Bill where it belongs, six feet deep in the graveyard of ill-conceived political statements of yesteryear.

Robert Carpenter is an applied mathematical sciences major and former editor-in-chief for The Battalion.

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