Reviewing “What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense”

I have just finished reading this book that argues that equality does not require changing the definition of marriage. It is a Natural Law defense of the traditional configuration of marriage. In other words, there is not appeal to religious authority or an inspired book. Reason itself can establish that marriage is a “real thing” that is not capable of redefinition based on cultural fads or personal preferences.

Most people, I believe, are of the persuasion that all social realities are simply human constructs that change over time. Therefore, marriage is what we want it to be at any given point. Since those who define marriage are the ensconced powerful, changing the definition of marriage must appeal to the courts on the basis of justice. The preferences of the majority are irrelevant, every bit as much as they were relative to slavery, Jim Crow, or miscegenation laws.

The authors of the book – Sharif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, Robert George – are not arguing the good or otherwise of homosexuality. The book focuses on the definition of marriage. There are two definitions at play:

The conjugal view of marriage has long informed the law—along with the literature, art, philosophy, religion, and social practice—of our civilization (see chapter 3). It is a vision of marriage as a bodily as well as an emotional and spiritual bond, distinguished thus by its comprehensiveness, which is, like all love, effusive: flowing out into the wide sharing of family life and ahead to lifelong fidelity. In marriage, so understood, the world rests its hope and finds ultimate renewal.

A second, revisionist view is a vision of marriage as, in essence, a loving emotional bond, one distinguished by its intensity—a bond that needn’t point beyond the partners, in which fidelity is ultimately subject to one’s own desires. In marriage, so understood, partners seek emotional fulfillment, and remain as long as they find it.

There is nothing specifically homosexual about the revisionist view of marriage. It informs many male-female relationships. But it brooks no real difference between these and same-sex relationships: both involve intense emotional union, so both can make a marriage. Comprehensive union, by contrast, is something only a man and woman can form. Enacting same-sex civil marriage would therefore not be an expansion of the institution of marriage, but a redefinition.

I intend to blog through some of the arguments Girgis, Anderson and George bring to the table. They, in fact, are joined by significant voices in the gay community that understand the revisionist view of marriage doesn’t redefine it. It destroys it.

While most believe that moral positions demand religion to ground them, Natural Law theorists beg to disagree. The assert that the rational human who reasons from a position of disinterestedness can rise to relative certainty that a moral position can be grounded through careful thought that is not subject to cultural tidal waves. In other words, marriage is real, a substance if you will, that can be discerned through enlightened thoughtfulness. I agree.

More later.

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