The Da Vinci Senator




The United States Senate is often called "the greatest deliberative body in the world," which usually raises the bar on the tenor and intellectual content of speeches given on the floor, if not for the official record.

Not so for Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who took to the Senate floor last week to deliver a strident push for the bigoted "Marriage Protection Amendment." Alongside the typical massive distortions of the issue was an argument that was based almost solely on the opinion of a little-known conservative think tank affiliated with the Roman Catholic organization Opus Dei.

"The problem we have in front of us is the institution of marriage has been weakened, and the effort to redefine it on this vast social experiment that we have going on, redefining marriage differently than it has ever been defined before," the Kansas senator grimly intoned last week. "This effort of this vast social experiment, the early data that we see from other places, harms the institution of the family, the raising of the next generation. And it is harmful to the future of the republic."

Brownback then went on to give figures for how various states have shown their hatred of gay people with their own prohibitions on same-sex marriage and used that as his rationale for a similar amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

But Brownback really hit his stride when he described a paper called "Ten Principles on Marriage and the Public Good," published by a fairly new and extremely conservative group at Princeton University. According to Brownback, the paper is an "important statement of principles from top American scholars [to] be considered carefully by my colleagues." He then added that the sentiments expressed in the nonscientific treatise were so vital to our national dialog that they should "… help guide our debate on this issue."

The paper, sponsored by the Witherspoon Institute at Princeton, makes a case for banning same-sex marriage altogether. What's extraordinary is the idea of a United States senator attempting to sway opinion on an amendment that would have altered our Constitution (had it not been defeated last Wednesday) by using a paper from an organization linked to Opus Dei, a strict religious group that some former members have described as a cult.

Brownback spent a good part of his lengthy Senate speech last week citing the study and attributing it to "this Princeton group of scholars," while never mentioning that all of the findings were based on the ultraconservative Witherspoon Institute bolstered by the involvement -- directly or indirectly -- of a nonprofit, tax-exempt religious organization in Opus Dei.

So what exactly is the Witherspoon Institute, whose paper formed the foundation of Brownback's anti-gay argument?

The institute, which has only been around since 2003, has close ties to Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council, but is also tightly aligned with Opus Dei. Indeed, Luis Tellez, the president of the Witherspoon Institute is also the director and lead cleric
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