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Peter's marriage logic: Not even a 'Sprigg' of truth

by Jeremy Hooper

200803031640The Family Research Council's Peter Sprigg recently gave a testimony encouraging the Maryland legislature to pass a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.  Here's the pertinent sample:

If you remember only one thing from my testimony, please remember this: Marriage is not primarily a religious institution or a civil institution. At its heart, marriage is a natural institution, rooted in the order of nature itself. Marriage existed before civil government and before religion as we know it. Neither religious institutions nor civil government create marriage; they simply recognize and regulate it.

Marriage arose as a fundamental social institution for two reasons. The first is because society needs to reproduce itself, and such reproduction takes place almost entirely through the sexual union of a man and a woman; and the second is because children need the mother and father who produce them to cooperate in raising them. These are facts of anthropology under every religion and every form of civil government. Religion alone is not reason enough to define marriage in a particular way; but the "separation of church and state" alone is not reason enough to change the traditional definition of marriage, either.

You will also hear some people testify as to the personal hardships they claim to suffer because they are denied the legal and financial "benefits" attached to civil marriage. But such anecdotes are ultimately irrelevant to the question before you. Society does not give "benefits" to marriage because individuals want them or would be helped by them. Society gives "benefits" to marriage because marriage gives benefits to society. Therefore, when those who are not married, such as people in homosexual or cohabiting relationships, seek to receive such public "benefits," they bear the burden of proof. They must show that such relationships benefit society (not just themselves) in the same way and to the same degree that the authentic, natural institution of marriage between a man and a woman does. This is a burden they cannot meet. Only the union of a man and a woman can result in the natural reproduction that is essential literally to continue the human race. And research clearly demonstrates that married men and women-and children raised by their married, biological mother and father-are happier, healthier, and more prosperous than people in any other living situation. These are the true "benefits of marriage."

The legal and financial "benefits" of marriage are not an entitlement for every citizen regardless of lifestyle. They give an incentive to enter into the socially beneficial relationship of authentic marriage, and give protection to the social institution of marriage. Awarding such benefits to the unmarried makes no more sense than giving veterans' benefits to people who never served in the military.

We say in response:

If you remember only one thing from our reply, please remember this: The social conservatives' narrow definitions of marriage are not the only acceptable ones.  In fact, when you look at the TRUE history of marriage (which is filled with concubines, levirate marriage, dowries, arranged marriages, property exchanges, sexism, etc.), you will find that their marriage myopia simply does not hold up! 

Sex is a natural institution.  Attraction is a natural institution.  Child birth is a natural institution.  Orgasms are natural (and welcome) institutions.  But ANY form of marriage recognition, be it religious or civil, is a human-made, human-fostered custom.  And it has, quite certifiably, adapted and reshaped itself in order to fit the changing times.

Peter's social definition of marriage is built on an idea that is wholly child-centric.  He shrouds his viewpoint in the idea that birthing and rearing are essential and necessary, and completely the product of a man-woman legal union.  However, there are more than a few childishly simplistic reasons why that is an invalid argument:

(1) Children are not, in fact, a requirement for anyone's marriage.
(2) Gay couples can and do have/raise children
(3) Divorced mothers do not have their children forcibly removed from when their marriages dissolve.

And again, while reasons like these do admittedly sound pedestrian, they are simple truths that CANNOT BE IGNORED.  However, social conservatives like Mr. Sprigg do
frequently ignore them, as they try to define this institution solely by their own personal Judeo-Christian values.  And there usage of progeny as a tool of nuptial validation is an  intellectually dishonest line of logic to anyone who prefers actuality to hot air.   

Moving on to rights and benefits: Sprigg frames the denial of such around the idea that man-woman marriage benefits society in ways that same-sex unions never could.  But on what sort of offensive token does he even dare to make this claim?!  He again uses the child reproduction through-line, because the ease of schtuping a human into existence is the ONLY leg up that these folks can find.  But what we are talking about here are the 1000+ rights and benefits that are granted to heterosexual couples on their WEDDING DAYS, and not on the day that they finally get to show off their Lamaze skills!   These rights and benefits involve things like tax breaks, medical visitation, and insurance, all of which protect the partnership and commitment (regardless of offspring).  It is insulting to suggest that children are the variable by which society can determine deservedness on issues like estate tax, when children are not one teensy weeny part of the commitment a couple makes to each other when they choose to get married!! 

Another disingenuous tactic that Sprigg employs is one that puts gays in the same category as married and cohabiting couples, overlooking that the former has no choice in the matter.  For example, he says that "
Awarding such benefits to the unmarried makes no more sense than giving veterans' benefits to people who never served in the military."  And you know, it's quite telling that Sprigg would make this comparison, since marriage and the military do share one commonality: GAYS CAN'T SERVE OPENLY IN EITHER!  So yes, Peter, it would be silly for one to say that an unserved or an unmarried person should receive veteran or spousal benefits.  But it's downright offensive when the reason why people are in unserved or unmarried states because certain parts of the population can't accept them as equal citizens!   While the analogy was clearly meant to help justify denial, the comparison more ably helps us to connect the dots of bias.

So in conclusion: Peter Sprigg, for a myriad of reasons, is embracing a shortsighted view of marriage that would be resoundingly laughed off the floor of every legislature in the country, if not for the pervasive homophobia/heterosexism that still inhabits (and inhibits) American society.  In his attempt to discredit gay couplings, he is presenting a fictional version of Norman Rockwell painting marriage, the likes of which fails to fully encapsulate all Americans' realities, needs, and deserved rights.  There is one silver lining, however, and that is that we seem to be rapidly heading to a point where even the non-required baby of a lesbian single mother can see the fault within the parade of lies that has defined the conservative movement in early 21st century America.  That comforts us.

Testimony of Peter Sprigg to the Maryland House of Delegates (2/28/08) [FRC]

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Your thoughts

Nicely put Jeremy.

And to Mr. Sprigg: Is the burden really on couples to show that their legal union will benefit society? On what do you base this? What benefits can non-childbearing heterosexual marriages provide society that homosexual couplings could not?

If there are no benefits besides producing biological children, I need to go tell my grandmother that she shouldn't have been allowed to remarry at her age. According to Mr. Sprigg she's required to prove that the marriage benefits society, and she can't do that without having more kids.

Posted by: GayMormonBoy | Mar 4, 2008 12:28:39 AM

Most Fundamentalists (this is really where these ideas are coming from) are completely unaware of the historical context of the bible. They are just told what to believe, mostly by people who prey on them and have no theological training. Every theologian agrees on the importance of reading and understanding the Bible in its historical and cultural context. When considered in this way, the life of Jesus and everyone in the old testament is unimaginable in modern times, though the teaching of Jesus are beneficial when understood in our time in history. I am a convinced Christian and I don't agree (call me conservative) with all of the fundamentalists that promote murder, polygamy, torture, incest, and idol worship. If you want to be a Fundamentalist and disregard the historicity of the Bible, then you agree with all that is in it and thus know that many sanctioned people of God in the Old Testament had several wives, had sex with their children, and killed their relatives (the poor kids that did not obey their parents). Oh wait, they probably don't agree with that. It is convenient to use the historical argument for that, but not for the issue of homosexuality. Please worship God and follow Jesus out of love and devotion, rather than what is convenient for you.

Posted by: Jos76 | Mar 4, 2008 1:53:22 PM

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