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Gay student asks Justice Scalia to defend his 'bestiality' comments

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Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, seen in October 2012.

Updated at 4:40 p.m. ET -- Just days after the Supreme Court announced it would take its first serious look at gay marriage, Justice Antonin Scalia was asked to defend his legal writings on homosexuality.

The Supreme Court justice was visiting Princeton University on Monday to discuss his latest book when a college freshman, who identifies as gay, asked Scalia about the comparison he has drawn between laws banning sodomy with those barring bestiality and murder.

“If we cannot have moral feelings against or objections to homosexuality, can we have it against anything?” Scalia said in response to the question, according to The Daily Princetonian. “I don’t think it’s necessary, but I think it’s effective.”

Scalia told Princeton student Duncan Hosie that he is not equating sodomy with bestiality or murder, but drawing parallels between the bans.

Scalia added dryly, “I’m surprised you weren’t persuaded,”  the student newspaper reported.

Hosie's question -- which received a round of applause -- stemmed from a 2003 case, Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down a Texas anti-sodomy law. Scalia had dissented in the case; in his dissent, he makes a couple of comparisons to laws against bestiality and declares, "nowhere does the Court’s opinion declare that homosexual sodomy is a 'fundamental right.'"

Scalia, the longest-serving justice on the current court was at Princeton to promote his new book, “Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts,” and to talk about the interpretation of, the Constitution. It was during a question-and-answer session that Hosie asked him about Lawrence v. Texas. 

"It's a form of argument that I thought you would have known, which is called the 'reduction to the absurd,'" Scalia told Hosie, of San Francisco, The Associated Press reported.

Reduction to the absurd, an English translation of the Latin term "reductio ad absurdum," is a form of logic in which one refutes an argument by showing that its inevitable consequences would be absurd.

Hosie later told NBC News he didn't feel persuaded by Scalia's response.

"I was very pleased that Scalia was polite with me. I thought he was respectful with me, so I appreciate that, however, I disagree with the substance of his answer," Hosie said.

"If you’re making an argument to convince people, you don’t want to alienate people, and that’s what Scalia did with his language. He didn’t just alienate liberals by comparing laws against gay sex to laws against murder and bestiality, he has alienated laws conservatives have condemned. It didn’t make sense to me," he added.


The Supreme Court will be reviewing California's ban on same-sex marriage and a federal law that defines marriage as only the legal union of a man and a woman in March, with a decision expected by late June.

Scalia has "not been opaque" about his feelings toward same-sex marriage in the past, and gay rights advocates do not expect him to change his mind when the Supreme Court hears the cases in the spring, said Fred Sainz, vice president of communications at Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights organization.

"It's safe to say he is a vote in the 'no' column," Sainz said. "He is not a justice that has an open mind towards these issues that are coming his way.” 

Hosie said he hopes the exchange he had with Scalia, while it may not change the justice's mind, will at least change the fiery words he uses in the future.

"I feel as if he’s crossed a line in comparing some of the things he’s compared gay rights to ... so hopefully this media coverage will encourage Justice Scalia to be more conscientious and careful in the words he uses," he said.

Scalia didn't discuss any issues related to specific cases during the Princeton Q&A, but defended his view that divining the original meaning of the Constitution is the best way to interpret it.

“The Constitution is not an organism; it’s a legal text, for Pete’s sake,” he said, reported The Daily Princetonian. “Unless you give [the laws] the meaning of those who enacted them, you’re destroying democracy.”

NBC News' Miranda Leitsinger contributed to this report.

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