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Massachusetts Ruling on Gay Marriage

Peter Sprigg
Director of Marriage and Family Studies, Family Research Council
Thursday, February 5, 2004; 11:00 AM

The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the state legislature may not offer "civil unions" instead of marriage for same-sex couples. This decision paves the way for the first state-recognized same-sex marriages in U.S. history.

Yesterday, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins released a statement saying, "Today's decision by the SJC (Supreme Judicial Court) leaves no doubt what is at stake in Massachusetts. Either the institution of marriage will be protected, or it will be redefined out of existence."

Peter Sprigg, director of marriage and family studies at the FRC was online Thursday, Feb. 5 at 11 a.m. ET to further explain his views against the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling.

Editor's Note: A representative in favor of the Massachusetts decision has been invited to conduct a discussion today at a time to be determined.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


washingtonpost.com: Peter Sprigg, welcome to washingtonpost.com. What significance does the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision on gay marriage carry for the rest of the country?

Peter Sprigg: The decision yesterday (February 4) was merely a confirmation of the original decision handed down last November 18. The Massachusetts Senate had asked for an advisory opinion as to whether creating "civil unions" with all the legal rights and benefits of marriage, but without the name "marriage," would satisfy the Court's earlier ruling. The Court said "civil unions" would not be enough -- only granting same-sex couples the right to "marry" would satisfy the state constitution. Given the strong language of the original November decision, it would have been surprising if the Court had ruled otherwise yesterday.

If, in fact, same-sex "marriages" begin taking place in Massachusetts this May, as the current schedule would have it, this will be the first place in America that this has happened. It will undoubtedly set up a long and contentious round of litigation whereby same-sex couples will seek recognition of their "marriage" in other states, challenging those states that have defense of marriage acts and challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which declared states need not recognize same-sex marriages from other states.


Lansing, Mich.: I fail to understand just how the idea of gay marriage threatens heterosexual marriage. Do you believe that heterosexuals will now consider their options open if gay marriage is made legal?

One might argue that instances such as the recent 24-hour-long heterosexual marriage of Britney Spears is more a threat to the institution than gay marriages - how do you respond to that?

Peter Sprigg: Britney Spears brief marriage was indeed a fiasco -- one facilitated by Nevada's lax marriage laws. We believe that it should not be made so easy for anyone, heterosexuals included, to enter a marriage, or to dissolve one.

The principal threat that homosexual "marriages" would pose to heterosexual marriage is that their acceptance would further accelerate the separation of sex, marriage, and procreation which has already begun. If homosexual unions, which are more unstable than heterosexual ones and less likely to be characterized by sexual fidelity, become part of the ideal of "marriage" that is held up to society, that will change the expectations and behavior of everyone, including heterosexuals, in the long run -- to the detriment of society as a whole.


Sydney, Australia: Marriage is a religious institution. I thought in the USA you had a separation of church and state.

Peter Sprigg: Different religions have strong viewpoints on marriage, but marriage between a man and a woman is not something distinctive to a particular religion. Indeed, no religion in the history of the world, in any culture or civilization (until the very recent past), has ever treated homosexual unions as the full equivalent of heterosexual marriage.

The "traditional" view of marriage we seek to defend is one rooted in anthropology, not merely religion. Marriage as a human institution exists to bring together men and women for the principal purpose of creating new generations of human beings and raising them to maturity. The inherent, unchangeable differences between men and women in their biological roles in sex and reproduction is at the heart of what marriage is about.


Washington, D.C.: Do you think that yesterday's court decision might actually help your cause to pass a state constitutional amendment in Massachusetts -- because it takes away the political cover that civil unions offers to legislators who might be tempted to vote against the state constitutional amendment?

Peter Sprigg: We certainly hope that this is the case. Polls show that a majority of Americans, and a majority of Massachusetts residents, do not favor legal recognition of same-sex "marriage," so we hope that politicians will reject this radical social experiment as well.


Shippingport, Pa.: Marriage laws vary from state-to-state, for example, in some states, first cousins can't marry. Yet other states recognize one another's laws. Why shouldn't states have the right to enact gay marriage laws?

Peter Sprigg: There is some diversity among states at the margins of their marriage laws, but not as to the central definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. When Utah sought to become a state in the 19th century, Congress would not let them do so unless the early Mormons who had founded the state would legally renounce the practice of polygamy. Just as the nation rejected the notion of plural marriage in the 19th century, we should reject the notion of same-sex "marriage" in the 21st.


Norfolk, Va.: How is preventing gays & lesbians from marrying any different from former laws preventing interracial marriage?

Peter Sprigg: Laws against interracial marriage had nothing to do with the real purpose of marriage. They simply exploited the marriage law to advance another purpose -- namely, maintaining the segregation of the races. Laws against same-sex marriage, on the other hand, are designed to protect the nature of marriage itself.

Whereas laws against interracial marriage were designed to keep blacks and whites apart, the current laws on marriage are designed to bring men and women together. It is same-sex "marriage" that would create a new segregation between male unions, female unions, and mixed-sex unions.

People make this comparison because of the superficial similarity in restricting one's choice of marriage partners. But in fact, even the most radical advocates for homosexual "marriage" have not proposed eliminating all restrictions on the choice of partner. People would still not be permitted to choose a sibling, a child, or a person who is already married as their spouse, even if that person was a "consenting adult."


Washington, D.C.: Churches such as the Metropolitan Community Churches have performed gay marriages for years, and other Jewish and Christian churches support civil unions. Wouldn't the Federal Marriage Amendment discriminate against those churches?

Peter Sprigg: One of the few areas where I agree with homosexual activists is this: the status of our civil marriage laws should in no way be binding upon churches. Liberal churches have an absolute religious liberty right to practice same-sex union ceremonies if they so choose -- they simply have no legal force. The Federal Marriage Amendment would not change that. On the other hand, mainstream and conservative churches have an absolute right to refuse to perform such ceremonies. Hopefully, that would not change even if same-sex "marriage" were legalized. However, the use of "hate crime" or "hate speech" laws in other countries against people who oppose homosexuality suggests that it is conservatives who have more to fear regarding the loss of their religious liberties.


Washington, D.C.: You state that gay relationships are less stable than heterosexual relationships. What proof of that do you have? And even if we stipulate that is true, isn't it hypocritical to chastise gays for having unstable relationships yet at the same time deny them the societal tools used to strengthen and reinforce long-term commitments, i.e., marriage?

Peter Sprigg: Here's one piece of evidence: a study of homosexual partnerships in the Netherlands (coincidentally, the first country to legalize same-sex "marriage") found that the average homosexual male partnership lasted 1.5 years, and included 8 sexual partners per year outside of the primary relationship. (Maria Xiridou, et al., "The contribution of steady and casual partnerships to the incidence of HIV infection among homosexual men in Amsterdam," AIDS Vol. 17, No. 7 (2003), p. 1031.)

Meanwhile, a study of Vermont civil unions has found that less than half of the same-sex couples in that states have even bothered to enter into civil unions -- suggesting that many homosexuals are actually unwilling to take on the responsibilities of marriage (in contrast, married heterosexual couples outnumber cohabiting ones by seven to one).


Arlington, Va.: Would your organization support a Constitutional Amendment defining marriage as a union between man and a woman? Please explain why or why not.

Peter Sprigg: We do support the concept of a federal marriage amendment to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Amending the constitution is a difficult task, and we have worried that merely defining the word "marriage" might actually invite more counterfeit forms of marriage such as civil unions or domestic partnerships. However, the judicial activism displayed by courts such as the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in its marriage decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court in it Texas sodomy decision, have made it apparent that a constitutional amendment will be the only sure way to reign in renegade judges.


Washington, D.C.: Do you feel that instead of marriage, homosexual couples should be able to enter into a civil union allowing them health, estate, and inheritance benefits?

Peter Sprigg: We oppose granting any sort of "benefits" whatsoever on the basis of a homosexual relationship.

Society does not grant benefits to marriage as some sort of entitlement program. Society grants benefits to marriage because marriage grants benefits to society.

Homosexual relationships cannot result in the natural procreation of children, nor can they provide children with the many demonstrated advantages of being raised by both a mother and a father. These are among the central benefits of marriage to society.

We believe that homosexual relationships are actually harmful to society, in that homosexuality is associated with higher rates of promiscuity, sexually-transmitted diseases, mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, and child sexual abuse. (For more information on this points, visit our Web site at www.frc.org).

That being said, however, I would point out that many of the supposed legal "benefits" of marriage can already be obtained through private contractual arrangements -- a health care proxy, power of attorney, making a will, life insurance, joint ownership of property, joint bank accounts, etc. We have no objection to such private contractual arrangements, as long as they remain private, rather than demanding they be provided in the context of an official governmental stamp of approval upon the relationship itself.


Chapel Hill, N.C.: 2 questions if you don't mind:
1- Conservative politics are based on the ideas that the gov't should not interfere with your life. Less gov't the better. So, why do conservatives want to have gov't dictate people's choice on this matter? Does conservative mean, I want less taxes, but then tell you how to lead your life? Please clarify this stance.

2- Don't we have bigger issues to think about than this?


Peter Sprigg: I need to go, but I will answer your second question quickly. We have NO bigger issue than this. Marriage is truly the foundation of civilization.


Peter Sprigg: Thank you for your questions. Once again, please visit our Web site at www.frc.org.

Peter Sprigg
Center for Marriage and Family Studies
Family Research Council
Washington, D.C.


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