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Gay Marriage Amendment

Peter Sprigg
Director for the Center of Marriage and Family Studies, Family Research Council
Tuesday, February 24, 2004; 3:00 PM

President Bush today urged Congress to send to the states a proposed constitutional amendment banning same sex marriages throughout the country.

"The President was right on target when he said activist courts have left the American people no other recourse," said the Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council in commenting about the proposed amendment.

Peter Sprigg, director for the Center of Marriage and Family Studies at the Family Research Council, was online Tuesday, Feb. 24 at 3 p.m. ET, to discuss his organization's reasons in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage.

Editor's Note: Praveen Fernandes, public policy advocate, will be online at 4 p.m. to discuss his organization's reasons against the amendment.

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.

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washingtonpost.com: Peter Sprigg, welcome to washingtonpost.com. Why is the Family Research Council in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage?

Peter Sprigg: We believe that defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman is fundamental to the nature of marriage itself. Unfortunately, the definition of marriage is now being threatened by the push for so-called same-sex "marriage." We believe that a constitutional amendment is now necessary to preserve the definition of this basic institution, and specifically to prevent activist courts from redefining marriage and re-allocating its benefits in an end run around the democratic process.

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Peoria, Ill.: I am trying to figure this issue out. I would naturally think of marriage as a man and a woman. But as I thought about it, isn't marriage about commitment and love between two people? Don't tell me it is about procreation -- what about married couples without children? And don't tell me well, why not then let brothers and sisters marry -- there is a genetic public interest reason for such prohibitions. What it all comes down to is my basic fear that we should not enshrine discrimination in the constitution -- isn't that what the amendment would do?

Peter Sprigg: There is sometimes some confusion about the relationship of marriage and procreation, which I think is important to understanding this issue. When we say "marriage is about procreation," that doesn't mean it is mandatory for each individual couple that marries to actually engage in procreation, or that procreation is the actual purpose for which each couples chooses, privately, to marry.

But the private purposes of marriage are not at issue here -- only the public ones. If marriage had nothing to do with procreation, there would be no reason for government to license and regulate it at all. The role of marriage in bringing together men and women for the natural reproduction of the human race and for raising the children of their unions to maturity in a mother-father household is central to the PUBLIC purpose of marriage.

Yes, infertile and childless opposite-sex couples are allowed to marry too -- but that is only because excluding them would require either an invasion of privacy or the drawing of arbitrary and inexact lines. Marriage is left open to the entire class of those couples that are even theoretically capable of reproduction (opposite-sex couples), but closed to those that are intrinsically infertile (same-sex couples).

If love and commitment were the only grounds for marriage, then there would be no reason for limiting it to couples, if groups of three or more desired it -- perhaps a better and more immediate example of the "slippery slope" than the incest argument you allude to.

Limiting marriage to unions of one man and one woman does not "discriminate" against any individuals, it merely defines the institution and limits it to those couples that meet its inherent definition.

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Arlington, Va.: If marriage is sacred, why should the government have anything to do with it at all? Why isn't this viewed as an issue of the separation of church and state? Leave marriage to religions, and let the government allow for economic & legal arrangements that aren't discriminatory.

Peter Sprigg: Defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman is not something limited to the theology of one particular religion. Until the last ten years, no culture, no civilization, and no religion anywhere in the world or at any time in history has treated same-sex unions as the equivalent of marriage. While some have tolerated polygamy, the male-female union has been universal. The argument in favor of it is rooted in biology, anthropology, and human nature, not simply in religion.

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College Park, Md.: Does the FRC believe gay couples should have any rights? If so, what? If not, why not?

Peter Sprigg: We believe that homosexual individuals should have all the same rights under the Constitution that any other individuals have -- the right to vote, the right to free speech and freedom of religion, the right to trial by jury, etc.

Furthermore, we do not oppose homosexual couples having the legal option of using contractual arrangements that are available to any two adults as a means of providing for one another's security. Examples would be joint ownership of property, joint bank accounts, naming each other as beneficiaries of a will or life insurance policy, health care proxy forms, power of attorney, and the like. These are private economic arrangements available to anyone, and are not contingent upon marriage.

What we oppose are any laws that would grant homosexual couples a specific package of benefits by virtue of their homosexual relationship, or that would in any way treat homosexual unions as the equivalent of marriage.

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Washington, D.C.: I've heard the term "activist" court bounced around but am unclear what people mean. The Massachusetts Supreme Court was asked by their legislature to make a ruling on the gay marriage vs. civil union question and they responded. The decision might be unpopular but the court is not spontaneously producing new laws. They're still reacting, not being "proactive".

Peter Sprigg: The court IS spontaneously producing new laws. The Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts, in its ruling last November, explicitly acknowledged that the common law definition of marriage in that state was the union of one man and one woman -- but then simply declared that they were changing the "common law" to define it as the union of "two persons." To do so without any support in either statutory law or the actual text of the constitution was a dramatic example of "judicial activism" at work.

The subsequent ruling on the choice of civil marriage vs. civil unions was merely a clarification of its original ruling, and the legislature would never have put the question of civil unions to the court if the court hadn't forced the issue upon them.

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Mclean, Va.: Why not just leave the question to the states to decide individually through legislation, popular referendums and/or changes to state constitutions? Why is federal intervention needed?

Peter Sprigg: We feel that the institution of marriage is something so basic to our existence as a society that the nation must have a uniform definition of it.

We also believe that the danger of courts overriding the democratic process to re-define marriage is a significant one. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision last June declaring homosexual sodomy to be a constitutional right, while not touching directly on the marriage issue, did raise legitimate fears that someday the court might declare homosexual "marriage" to be similarly protected. Such a ruling would trump any state action to the contrary. The only sure way to forestall this is to amend the U. S. Constitution.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: One thing I don't hear discussed much is that most states already allow gay couples to adopt children (something that I'm not real comfortable with). Given that one of the primary reasons given by opponents of gay marriage is that "real marriage" is the best way to raise children, why haven't groups such as yours fostered more public discourse in the past years about gay adoptions?

Peter Sprigg: Actually, the Family Research Council has addressed this issue extensively. Visit our Web site at and search for our "Insight" paper "Homosexual Parenting: Placing Children at Risk."

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washingtonpost.com: Family Research Council

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Takoma Park, Md.: Can you please explain why the Defense of Marriage Act is not sufficient to protect against gay marriage? I thought it said that the federal government and any state that choose to, did not have to honor the marriages. Thank you.

Peter Sprigg: The Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman for all purposes under FEDERAL law. However, it does not prevent courts in the states from giving the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples (as happened in Vermont) or actual civil marriage to such couples (as the Massachusetts court has ordered). The Federal Marriage Amendment would stop such judicial activism.

The federal DOMA also provided that states would not have to recognize same-sex "marriages" from other states. Homosexual activists contend that this is unconstitutional, however, because of the "full faith and credit" clause of the Constitution. If this portion of DOMA is challenged in the federal courts and struck down, then we could be at risk of having marriage re-defined for the whole country by a single state. The Federal Marriage Amendment would prevent this as well.

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Centreville, Va.: Isn't heterosexual infidelity and divorce a greater threat to marriage than homosexual marriage?

Peter Sprigg: I always emphasize that heterosexuals have done more damage to the institution of marriage to date than homosexuals have, if only because there are so many more of us.

The growth of premarital sex, cohabitation, unwed childbearing, infidelity, and divorce have all done grave damage to the institution of marriage over the last 50 years. But that is all the more reason why we should avoid doing more damage to an already weakened institution by changing its essential definition.

But research clearly shows that homosexuals, particularly homosexual men, have relationships that are far more short-lived and far less likely to include sexual fidelity than heterosexuals (particularly married heterosexuals). If these relationships are rewarded with the label of marriage, it will do further damage to the idea that sexual fidelity and lifelong commitment are essential values of marriage -- with negative consequences for all of society.

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Peter Sprigg: Thank you for your questions. For more information, please visit the Family Research Council's Web site: Family Research Council .

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