Peter Sprigg begins his new book on same-sex marriage, Outrage, with a paradox: Most Americans oppose it, “yet in terms of political action, the pro-family, pro-marriage majority has been strangely muted.” Sprigg attributes this to a lack of intellectual ammunition and aims to remedy that deficiency with this book.
He is certainly qualified to do so. Director of the Center for Marriage and Family Studies at the Family Research Council (FRC), Sprigg has also co-authored a more scholarly book published by FRC that assembles the scientific research on homosexuality. Some highlights of that research provide the factual foundation for the present book. So while this is avowedly a polemical work, it is based on solid evidence. The result is a concise, clear, and readable book that provides an excellent introduction to where we now stand on perhaps the most emotional issue on the national agenda.
Sprigg briefly but effectively surveys the major arguments in the controversy. He counters what he regards as his opponents’ strongest argument: that gay marriage is a “civil right,” a suggestion he says is positively insulting to those who have experienced the brutal denial of true civil rights. He shows that the African-American community, where acute family deterioration precludes the luxury of indulging in fashionable social experiments, opposes same-sex marriage by a larger margin than whites.
Sprigg also confronts the false comparison with anti-miscegenation laws, the allegedly unfair denial of financial benefits to gay partners, and the disingenuous federalist argument. On the other hand, he invokes research showing the impact on children of being raised in homosexual households, the unanswered “slippery slope” argument that same-sex marriage must open the door to further redefinitions of marriage (such as polygamy), and the disturbing extent of promiscuity and even pedophilia within gay culture.
His appeal to libertarians is especially valuable. A superficial libertarianism relegates marriage to private life. But the issue is what marriages the state recognizes. More largely, the erosion of family cohesion may be the single most important factor driving the expansion of government power over private life.
Likewise, his brief note on how official recognition of homosexuality, combined with “hate crime” laws, is already curtailing freedom of worship and speech is of interest not only to Christians and might have been worth expanding.
The larger question concerns the assumption on which he predicates the book: Is opposition to same-sex marriage not only widespread but determined enough to be mobilized by providing the right arguments?
Some evidence suggests it is. Citizens recently shut down the congressional voice mail system with calls opposing homosexual marriage. This campaign has certainly had the merit of placing family policy on the front pages and in the election campaign.
But the potential to actually mobilize sustained opposition may be limited. Indeed, some who agree with Sprigg’s position oppose his proffered solution, the Federal Marriage Amendment to the Constitution, which Congress recently rejected.
There are various reasons for weak public mobilization, but the most significant may relate to the one argument Sprigg does not refute: that “Heterosexuals severing the link between marriage and sexual activity, and marriage and childrearing, has done the most damage to the institution of marriage.”
This is the central conundrum that activists on both sides of the issue repeatedly point out: that divorce and out-of-wedlock births pose a more serious threat to marriage than do gay unions. Sprigg does not avoid this argument; he embraces it. Moreover, the book seems to recognize that, sooner or later, it must be confronted squarely. The introduction by FRC President Tony Perkins, sponsor of the nation’s first covenant marriage law in Louisiana, begins disarmingly by likening same-sex marriage to no-fault divorce and describes the damage no-fault laws have done to families and children.
Indeed, evidence indicates that the real “redefinition” of marriage took place 30 years ago and today’s controversy is merely the logical culmination. As scholar Bryce Christensen argues, gay marriage would probably not be an issue were it not for the weakening of marriage through no-fault divorce laws.
This is a huge can of worms, and it is hardly fair to fault Sprigg for not wishing to open it in a short book with a limited purpose. Just tipping the lid as he and Perkins do sends a bold message.
But if family advocates are to take and keep the moral high ground, and maintain the momentum they have developed over gay marriage, they will eventually have to move beyond these arguments to a more comprehensive defense of the family by challenging the larger policy failures that have eviscerated it. This is a nettle to be grasped, not avoided, and the same-sex marriage controversy could be the critical turning point, presenting an opportunity that may not come again.
Sprigg does mention efforts to roll back no-fault divorce, but these have not been pursued with remotely the same determination as opposition to same-sex marriage or abortion. The divorce laws have smoldered too long on the back burner, awaiting changes in the “culture.” But no one ignores same-sex marriage or abortion by waiting for cultural change; they are confronted as public policy issues.
This might activate the forces Sprigg finds perplexingly passive. He argues that gay parenting erodes the status of both mothers and fathers. Yet the status of parents has already been seriously eroded. Ask homeschoolers, victims of spurious child-abuse accusations, or non-custodial parents. (The only error I detected throughout the book was an aside on how “deadbeat dads abandon their kids”–not only an unnecessary concession that has been roundly refuted by recent research but one that extracts the marriage controversy from its larger context: government policy weakening parent-child bonds.) Is it likely that a citizens’ revolt against the erosion of parental authority will be motivated by a desire to defend motherhood or fatherhood in the abstract or from parents who need to defend their own motherhood and fatherhood in the concrete?
Sprigg points out that it is the proponents, not the opponents, of redefining marriage who are the public policy innovators. He and his allies are simply responding in defense of traditional marriage. True enough. But having disposed of these issues, Sprigg might consider writing another book, one that widens the debate and takes a morally proactive, rather than reactive, stance.
One might easily be lulled into the illusion that such a fine book puts an end to the conversation. In fact, it is only the beginning.
To purchase Outrage, click here.
Sign up to the Human Events newsletter