Judy Romea says her mother encouraged her to press on. Photo courtesy Judy Romea

Despite attempts to silence her and like-minded friends, Stanford University senior Judy Romea refused to back down.

Romea, president of a campus group, had hoped to create a civil atmosphere during an all-day conference at Stanford that she helped organize to discuss “marriage, family, and sexual integrity.”  Then the school’s Student Graduate Council defunded the event and slapped her group, the Stanford Anscombe Society, with a hefty “security” fee in an attempt to quash the pro-marriage event.

Romea persevered, though, and led the Stanford Anscombe Society (SAS) to put on a successful conference April 5 called Communicating Values: Marriage, Family & the Media. In an exclusive interview with The Foundry, she discussed what motivated her to push forward while facing uncharitable resistance.

“The whole point of SAS is not to declare political victory when it comes to the issue of same-sex marriage,” Romea said. “That’s a very myopic view. The mission is really to engage each other and show the world what real and valuable relationships are [between] people who agree and disagree.”

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Romea, who was born and grew up in Valencia, Calif., founded SAS as a college freshman. The group, named after British philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe, meets weekly to discuss the roles of family, marriage, and sexual integrity in the lives of Stanford students.

Romea says she never expected to be met with hostility by Stanford classmates and student leaders. Instead, she hoped the group would promote a culture of dialogue and tolerance on Stanford’s diverse campus. She hoped to see relationships and conversations thrive.

Romea’s interest in the study of marriage and family began early, she says. A conference held by the Ruth Institute in 2012 first sparked her interest in academic arguments regarding marriage and human sexuality. Even as a high school student, she says, she often talked to friends about the value of stable relationships.

One goal of her group’s conference was to “expose [students] to the intellectual and rational arguments for marriage, as well as [other] tools they have at their disposal with which to communicate their values,” Romea said.

These good intentions apparently didn’t matter to leaders of the Graduate Student Council. Romea, a business major, was buckling down for final exams when the student government group unexpectedly pulled funding for the conference—to her frustration and disappointment.

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The student council expressed disapproval with the ideology of the scheduled speakers, several of whom were advocates of marriage as the union of a man and a woman—and oppose redefining marriage. Among them was Ryan T. Anderson, The Heritage Foundation’s William E. Simon fellow, whom the student council claimed March 5 would make some in the campus community “feel threatened.”

To counter the “unsafe space” the student council also said the marriage conference would create, it ordered Romea’s group to provide $5,600 for event security or cancel. After SAS garnered some media attention by publicly demanding the lifting of what Romea called a “tax on free speech,” the university administration “found” sufficient funds to cover security costs.

Romea was struck by the fact that some Stanford students seem to think marriage should be an off-limits topic for her group. The irony to her was that although the lecture forum is designed to be a place where diverse ideas can be expressed, some were disgruntled that invited speakers would oppose the redefinition of marriage. She said:

A void in the campus discourse exists regarding marriage, family, and human sexuality. At best, deviations from these values are viewed as strange, while at worst, they’re the result of bigotry and hatred — as we saw with the funding controversy regarding this conference.”

Romea didn’t press ahead alone, though. She attributes the success of the event to the hard work and courage of fellow SAS leaders Elisa Figueroa and James Capps, as well as planning committee members Irene Onyeneho and Josephine Romea (her sister).

Through it all, Romea says, her mother cheered her on. When she thought twice about holding the conference, her mother encouraged her, saying, “Why would you back down when anything that is good requires a lot of sacrifice and a lot of tenacity?” Romea felt her confidence return.

“Standing up for marriage [takes] a commitment to living your life according to your principles,” she said.

Marriage advocates need each other at a time when they are being tarred as bigots or worse, she told The Foundry.

“It’s beautiful to be able to collaborate with other individuals on something like this,” she said, adding:

If the whole controversy has taught me anything, it’s that the fight for marriage and family will be won, not by shouting down the other side, but through teamwork and friendship of the kind demonstrated by the Stanford Anscombe Society’s members and supporters.”