Family Research Council

Testimony in OPPOSITION to House Bill 438 ("Civil Marriage Protection Act")
In SUPPORT of House Bill 474 ("Maryland Marriage Protection Act")
In SUPPORT of House Bill 728 ("Maryland Marriage Protection Act")

by Peter Sprigg
Senior Fellow for Policy Studies, Family Research Council
Resident, Montgomery County, Maryland

Maryland House of Delegates
Judiciary Committee
Health and Government Operations Committee
Annapolis, Maryland

February 10, 2012

Note: Mr. Sprigg submitted written testimony in advance of this hearing, but when he appeared before the committee to speak in person, he chose instead to respond to testimony and questioning that occurred earlier in the hearing. This is a revised and extended version of those spoken remarks.

I think there has been some confusion today about three quite different concepts. The first is the public purpose of, or public interest in, marriage. The second is the definition of marriage. And the third is the right to marry. It is a serious error to focus on the last of these without first understanding the other two.

The first and most foundational question we must answer when discussing civil marriage is, "Why is marriage a public institution in the first place?" Why do we insist upon--indeed, why do we even allow--government involvement in this most intimate of personal relationships?

After all, you do not need a license from the government to acquire a new best friend, and you do not need a judgment from a court before you can stop being best friends with that person. So the mere existence of a loving and caring relationship cannot be sufficient reason for state involvement in a relationship.

It also cannot be about sharing living quarters. The government has no say in the matter when we find a new roommate, or when we cease to be roommates.

The presence of a sexual relationship is not enough to explain the public interest in marriage, since people have the ability to enter and leave sexual relationships with no assistance from the government.

Even the mere fact that children are being raised in a household is not sufficient. We have heard much today about the fact that some same-sex couples are raising children, just as opposite-sex couples do. But there are many households in which children are raised that are not classified as marital households. In fact, there is one particular type of household that I would venture to guess is more common than same-sex couples raising children--namely, one in which the child is being raised by his or her mother and grandmother. Yet the bill you have before you explicitly prohibits these two loving caretakers from marrying each other, since it declares, "An individual may not marry the individual's parent."

While all of these are aspects of marriage for most people--they are among the private purposes fulfilled when a person chooses to marry--they do not explain the public purpose of the institution of marriage.

I would submit to you that the only public purpose of sufficient gravity to justify government involvement in such a personal relationship is this: Marriage exists to bring together men and women for the reproduction of the human race, and to keep together a man and woman to raise to maturity the children produced by their union. To put it another way, marriage both encourages and regulates the only type of relationship that is capable of natural procreation-the union of a man and a woman.

Although not every opposite-sex couple does procreate, this is beside the point--which is that only opposite-sex couples can do so by natural means. It is because only opposite-sex couples fulfill the public purpose of marriage that we define marriage as the union of one woman and one man.

The U.S. Supreme Court has declared that the right to marry is a "fundamental right." Every individual in this room who is of the proper age already has an inalienable right to marry. But the "right to marry" consists only of the "right" to enter into the type of relationship that is defined as a "marriage." Since marriage is the union of one man and one woman by definition, individuals who prefer a partnership with someone of the same sex simply prefer something other than "marriage."

The individual who seeks to "marry" a person of the same sex is in the same legal position (this is not intended as a moral comparison) as a person who seeks to marry a child, a close relative, or a person who is already married. All of these are restrictions upon a person's choice of marital partner, but they do not thereby abridge the right to marry. They are simply part of the definition of marriage.

I urge you to oppose House Bill 438, preserve the definition of marriage as the union of one woman and one man, and thereby insure that it continues to serve its unique public purpose.

Meet The Author
Peter Sprigg Senior Fellow for Policy Studies

Peter S. Sprigg is Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. Mr. Sprigg joined FRC in 2001, and his research and writing have addressed (Full Bio)

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