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October 1, 2014

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Sun Youth Forum:

Students don’t shy away from the hot issues

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R. Marsh Starks/Las Vegas Sun

Alex Bayless, a student at Eldorado High School, speaks during a session of the Sun Youth Forum at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2003.

High school students tackled some of the hottest national and local topics during the Tuesday morning sessions of the Sun Youth Forum.

Topics ranging from same-sex marriages to the legalization of prostitution sparked heated discussions among the teens, who fought to have their voices heard.

The students couldn’t seem to agree on how to go about ensuring human rights without stepping on some toes.

The “America” room buzzed in heavy debate when students were asked if gay marriages should be allowed in Nevada.

Bonanza High School senior Ariana Robinson said she favored same-sex marriages.

“You can’t discriminate against people, no matter what the relationship,” Robinson said. “It’s like interracial marriages. Some people say they are OK while others are against it. But a white man could still marry a black woman if he wanted. Gays should have the same rights.”

Jared Hall, a senior at Durango, said as Americans, everyone should be entitled to the same benefits, regardless of their sexual preferences.

“There are certain benefits within the law that are given to people by being married,” he said. “This is supposed to be a free country. If they have the right to freedom and the right to live their life, then why can’t they live the way they choose? People need to leave religion out of it.”

That brought up the separation of church and state.

“There is a wall of separation between government and religion and it needs to stay there,” Western senior Marcos Ibarra said.

Centennial senior Natasha Benfield said she believes proponents of same-sex marriages were missing the point.

“The whole purpose of a marriage is to have children and reproduce for future generations,” she said. “You cannot do that with same-sex marriages, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be adopted by gay parents. If people want to be gay and live together, that’s fine, but they don’t have to get married.”

Gay rights are not specifically addressed in the Constitution, but that doesn’t exclude them, some students pointed out.

“The framers of the Constitution were white men who went back home to their plantations and slaves,” said William Barber, a senior at Valley High, indicating those who wrote the Constitution had no concept that homosexuals’ rights one day might be an issue.

Rebecca Webb, a Green Valley senior, agreed that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were designed to expand in scope.

“When the framers wrote the Bill of Rights, they meant for it to be a skeleton because they did not know if the country would last five minutes or hundreds of years,” Webb said. “Things were not meant to be specific,” allowing for amendments abolishing slavery and women’s right to vote.

David Rossmiller, a senior at Western, noted that even if the government gave homosexuals the right to marry, “a priest could not be forced to marry them” because of a separation of church and state.

Jordan Butler, a senior at Coronado, said homosexuality has always been around, but the only reason homosexual rights are now being debated is “because we as a society are more open-minded to even have a conversation to consider allowing homosexuals to get married.”

Devon Baltz, a Vo-Tech senior, said: “Our country was founded on Christian values — one nation under God. What we have today is mass media telling us to accept homosexuality. I don’t care if you are gay, I just don’t want it pushed in my face. Don’t try to force me to accept it.”

Across the hall, students in the “Home in Nevada” room discussed the controversial issue of whether to legalize prostitution in Las Vegas.

The moderator pointed out to students that Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman has said the proposal is worthy of discussion.

Of the 32 students present, 19 said they were against legalizing prostitution while the other 12 said it might benefit the city.

“If we legalize it, that will convince other people that it is OK,” Bonanza senior Jenna Gomes said. “That will just lead to more prostitution because they will think it is OK since it is legal.’

Sierra Vista junior Christina Dozier said legalizing prostitution would only reward law-breakers.

“It’s like we’d be celebrating criminals if we legalize it,” she said. “It’s like saying, ‘Oh, you broke the law, good job, now let’s make things easier for you,’ and I don’t think that’s right.”

Other students argued that legalizing prostitution would save time and money for police and the taxpayers.

Around the corner from the prostitution discussion, U.S. District Judge Philip Pro, a longtime Sun Youth Forum moderator, monitored a spirited debate on the issue of whether marijuana should be legalized.

When one student asked him why marijuana is illegal when tobacco and alcohol cause more deaths, Pro said: “You elect people who make things legal or illegal — just like any other law.”

William Barber, a Valley High senior, noted that legalizing marijuana undoubtedly “would deprive criminals of a source of income.”

A show of hands revealed that the forum group was split about 50-50 on whether to legalize marijuana.

Rebecca Webb, a Green Valley High senior, said: “More people would probably do it (marijuana) if it were legalized. But what I’m more concerned about is what people do when they are on drugs, like drive and maybe kill someone. Why make it easy?”

Her statement was a haunting reminder of August 2002, when Las Vegas Sun executive and longtime Sun Forum Director Sandy Thompson was killed in a car accident by a person who was found to be under the influence of marijuana.