What Is Marriage?

I recently read What Is Marriage: Man and Woman: A Defense by Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson and Robert P. George. The authors argue, as the book’s title would suggest, that marriage is the comprehensive union between a man and a woman. They call this the conjugal view of marriage, as opposed to the revisionist view, which defines marriage primarily as an emotional union.what is marriage

I can’t reproduce their entire argument here, but some of the primary points will do.

  1. Those wishing to redefine marriage as an emotional union of love between two people will leave no ground for preventing every other kind of loving relationship from recognition. Regardless of the gender of the parties, number of parties, relation of parties, age of parties, etc., if one defines marriage as an emotional union between people, they’ve opened the door for anything and everything.
  2. Marriage – the conjugal view – finds its natural extension in children. To state the obvious, only a man and a woman can produce another human being. It is in the state’s interest to protect children, thus it is in the state’s interest to incentivize and protect the relationship that produces children (and disincentivize divorce, which, unfortunately, the state stopped doing decades ago). “Societies rely on families … to produce what they need but cannot secure: healthy, upright children who become conscientious citizens” (16).
  3. This is why governments don’t recognize friendships. Friendships don’t produce children, and neither do same-sex relationships. The only thing separating friendship and same-sex couples is the degree and intensity of their relationship.
  4. For these authors, the primary harm done by redefining marriage is that the public perception and esteem for marriage will decrease. What a government calls a marriage affects what people think of as marriage (54), and, “to the extent that marriage is misunderstood, it will be harder to see the point of its norms, to live by them, and to urge them on others” (7).

There are other significant points, like statistical support for the benefits of children growing up in a home with a father and mother, although it seems as though people can find statistical support for whatever they want. Also, the authors emphasize that they – and the views they advocate – don’t exclude anybody from being in any kind of relationship, just that the government needn’t recognize it.

I recommend the book, as it thoroughly defends the conjugal view of marriage and compellingly argues against government’s recognition of the revisionist view.

While I benefited from their arguments – and will employ them at times, I’m sure – I’m not convinced of the legitimacy of their approach. Girgis, Anderson and George make their argument exclusively from a natural law perspective, making no appeal to the Bible. While I think there is a place for natural law arguments in the defense of marriage, the redefinition of marriage has worked its way into the assumptions of so many people’s worldviews that these kinds of arguments increasingly fall on deaf ears.

Changing minds on this issue often demands a complete shift in thought. That kind of shift – one toward a more biblical view of humanity’s most basic realities – can be aided by natural law arguments, but requires a change of heart, from one of stone to one of flesh.

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