In its inaugural event, the College Democrats’ Committee for Social Justice brought Michigan Rep. Rebekah Warren (D – 53rd District) to campus yesterday to parse the presidential nominees’ stances on controversial social issues.

In her speech before about 30 students yesterday in the Wolverine Room of the Michigan Union, Warren tackled issues including health care, gender equality, gay marriage and prison reform in just the first half of her speech.

She said that while Michigan is one of the top states in the country for providing health care for children, the state needs to work harder so that health care is affordable for everyone.

“We can’t have a system where we have folks who have absolutely zero access to healthcare, which is happening too often already here in Michigan,” she said.

Warren also pushed for the legalization of same-sex marriage. In 2004, Michigan voters passed adding a ban on same-sex marriage to the state’s constitution.

“Michigan has unfortunately been at the forefront of passing a ban on same-sex marriage,” she said. “We really want to make sure that we don’t backslide, and if we had a president that would be advocating for a kind of national, constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, that would be a huge step backwards for us.”

Before Warren’s talk, those in attendance got a 12-minute crash course in four social justice issues – global poverty, Iraqi refugees, torture and discriminatory sentencing – with committee member and LSA sophomore Zachary Martin mentioning each presidential candidate’s stance on the topics.

When speaking on torture in the U.S., Martin stepped carefully around McCain’s history as a prisoner-of-war during the Vietnam War while also calling his voting record into question.

“John McCain used to stand up to his party on this issue and he obviously understands what torture is like, because he went through it,” Martin said. “But then he voted to allow the CIA to continue torture.”

Martin said he wanted the committee to cover global poverty at the event, saying the United States has an obligation to help citizens in countries where people die from preventable disease and malnutrition.

“There are countries in Africa where the life expectancy is less than 40 years old and that’s just unacceptable,” he said. “We have the ability to help with things so easily, with vaccinations and with things like mosquito netting and condoms, to cut back on malaria and AIDS.”

Committee chair DJ Heebner said the talk was an attempt to shed light on issues that receive less coverage than topics like the war in Iraq and the economy. She said she was pleased with the group’s first event, but thought the next one would need more publicity.

LSA sophomore Josh Levasseur said he went to the event to support friends in the committee, but left with a stronger interest in the topics addressed.

“Social justice isn’t really a popular thing among students,” he said. “The majority of college students would rather worry about finals and how much ramen costs.”

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