When I was an undergrad at UT, the biggest issue of debate was U.S. divestiture from South Africa because of apartheid. We would stand in the West Mall, fists raised, shouting, "Amandla awethu!" The phrase means, "The power is ours!"
I drifted among the sometimes enlightening, always entertaining, debates of various student organizations, including the zealous Steve Biko committee, the bright-eyed Republican Student Association, the Harambee Christian Bible Study, and the school's gospel choir.
My initial lessons in the area of student debate were about the importance of boycotting Coke because they wouldn't divest from South Africa. During my freshman year, I also learned about the National Security Council and other government agencies with agendas that included taking out any African American leader who could garner popularity like the late Dr. King. (Is that why Colin Powell wouldn't run for President?)
A year or so later, I observed some lines drawn in the sand between Christian students who believed that you had to be saved to be in the gospel choir and those who thought you just had to want to sing to be in the gospel choir. That debate caused something akin to an old-fashioned church split!
Now, I think debate on college campuses is gentler and kinder. One of the students organizations sponsored a debate about gay marriage at the law school today. I was only able to make the last part of the debate because we had a make-up class in Oil & Gas. When I entered the room, I felt that familiar tension as students shot their statement-questions at the speakers and the speakers answered with sound-bite quips full of information from their talking points.
I was kind of reminded of my undergraduate years when students were not afraid to stand up for what they believed and challenged others to defend their positions. However, today people are sensitive to being politically correct and so they save their most honest opinions for meetings where they don't think they have a mixed audience.
Back in the day, one of my Christian friends would probably have explained marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman ordained by God and recognized by the state. In response, one of my SGL (same gender loving)/GLBT friends may have said that marriage should be a covenant between any two consenting adults, recognized by the state and ordained by God if the two people chose to have their union in a church.
My impression was that the speakers wanted to avoid the whole "spiritual" or "religious" aspect of the debate for whatever reasons. One speaker went so far as to say that the United States was founded by people fleeing a place where "religion was being shoved down their throats." She wanted to take religion out of the debate. In this instance, I don't know if you really can or should.