Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson and Robert P. George

Dec 30, 2020

What Is Marriage?

Man and Woman: A Defense

Encounter Books 2020

Historically, marriage was understood to be a conjugal relationship; that is to say, a bond uniting a man and a woman as husband and wife in a partnership shaped by its special aptness for conceiving and rearing children. Thus, its norms included sexual complementarity, exclusivity, fidelity, and a pledge of permanence. In 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States, in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, held that states could no longer define marriage as a distinctively male-female bond. The Court required all fifty states to eliminate the norm of sexual complementarity so that the relationships of same-sex partners could be recognized as “marriages.” To many Americans, justice had triumphed, “bigotry” had been defeated, so-called “marriage equality” would usher in a golden era of tolerance and there would be absolutely no negative repercussions.

Those people and institutions (such as religious bodies) who cling to the idea of marriage as a conjugal bond and therefore oppose this sweeping change were henceforth to be treated as not just defeated foes in a series of court cases but as hate-filled yahoos suffering from a form of moral insanity. This was despite the fact that those who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman were assured repeatedly by their opponents throughout the period up until Obergefell—and by the majority itself in that decision—that they had nothing to fear from what was, they insisted, a mere extension of marriage not its redefinition.

They were told no harm would result to either individuals of conscience or to parents or children who would now be brought up in a world in which marriage is defined as basically an emotional union between adults of whatever sex, not one based on the bodily union of a man and a woman made possible by their sexual-reproductive complementarity. When defenders of the conjugal view of marriage pointed out that its legal abolition left no principled basis for norms such as permanence, monogamy, and fidelity, their arguments went for the most part unaddressed, except by the occasional candid critic, such as the gay activist writer Michelangelo Signorile, who replied that the abolition of traditional norms of morality represented a form of “liberation” from outmoded strictures. The norms were to be relegated to the history books and those who expressed allegiance to them were to find themselves increasingly in danger of losing their jobs, their businesses, and their rights to educate their children in their own beliefs.

The authors of a book published in 2012, and in 2020 out in a second edition with a powerful new afterword, saw all of this coming. That book was What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense (Encounter Books) by Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson & Robert P. George. We will talk to Mr. Anderson about the new edition of the book and what he and his co-authors got right about what was likely to happen in terms of religious freedom generally and in areas such as foster care and adoption assistance in a same-sex marriage world and what even he and his co-authors did not foresee. All of this affects all of us.

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Hope J. Leman is a grants researcher.

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Hope J. Leman

Hope J. Leman is a grants researcher in the biomedical sciences. She is particularly interested in the subjects of natural law, religious liberty and history generally.

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