“What Price Glory?” is
the title of a 1924 play about life, death, and heroism in the trenches of World
War I. One of the co-authors,
Laurence Stallings, was a Marine sergeant in the famous Battle of Belleau Wood
during which the Marines earned (according to American combat reporter Floyd
Gibbons) the eternal epithet, “Teufelshunde
Dogs.” Stallings was wounded in
that battle, eventually losing one of his legs.
This review“What Price
Marriage?”points to another kind of war, that of preserving the original
meaning of marriagethe union of one man and one woman as husband and
wife. In the near, and not so
near, future there will be countless skirmishes and many pitched battles
between preservationists and revisionists. The difference is that we who are for traditional marriage
will likely be on the defensive for decades to come. We will not have the chance to shock the opposition with an
offensive as definitive as the Marine advance at Belleau Wood. If the opposition is able to be shocked
at all, it will be in retrospect when it finally recognizes the societal
no-man’s-land it helped create by ignoring the goods inherent in conjugal love:
commitment, exclusivity, procreation, complementarity, and stability.
Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense is, in fact, part of an ongoing strategic offensive,
certainly in light of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions on Proposition 8 and the
Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
The authorsSherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. Georgewould
eschew the military references.
They have taken great pains to keep the dialogue
non-confrontational. You will find
in their work no button-pushing words, ad hominem attacks, “hetero”/“homo” juxtaposition, or
moral/religious arguments. It is
straight, transparent common sense.
There are no cunning, carnivorous agendas in sheep’s clothing. So, the warring metaphor (if it is a metaphor) is solely mine.
About the authors: Were
I ever brought before a civil or criminal court for “hate speech” (in support
of traditional marriage), I would want the authors to be my defense team, no
question. Their minds are like
ginsu knives that can slice through anything from brass pipe to overripe
tomatoes. If they learned a
modicum of legal protocol, the prosecution would have its hands full.
I have listened to
Anderson, and heard George give a talk in Sacramento. All are professional, beyond
intelligent, and unflappable. In
addition, Professor George (Princeton University) has a marvelous sense of
humor. Even if my case were lost,
the listening public would be way better educated about the reality of
marriage, and not a little mesmerized.
In What Is Marriage? there are six chapters sandwiched
Introduction and Conclusion, followed by an Appendix. The text covers
109 pages, all filled with straightforward,
down-home thinking. That does not
mean it is an easy readit presumes that the reader’s forebrain has been
with Logic 101, Aristotle 202, and Aquinas 303. I am hyperbolizing,
somewhat. There are some paragraphs I had to re-read several times to
get the gist. But most major
points leap off the page and are quite brain-friendly. I shall
spotlight a few of those
points, and, where appropriate, insert a reservation or two.
According to the
authors, there are two operative views of marriage today, one existing from
time immemorial and the other from the day before yesterday:
(1) The conjugal
view “has long informed the law… of our civilization. It is a vision of marriage as a bodily as well as an
emotional and spiritual bond, distinguished thus by its comprehensiveness…. In
marriage, so understood, the world rests its hope and finds ultimate renewal”
(2) The revisionist view focuses on “a loving emotional bond, one
distinguished by its intensitya 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” (pp. 1-2).
In the first
definition, note well the word “comprehensiveness.” For the authors, marriage is a comprehensive union, meaning “a union of will (by consent) and
body (by sexual union); inherently ordered to procreation and thus the broad
sharing of family life; and calling for permanent and exclusive commitment,
whatever the spouses’ preferences” (p. 6). Such a union, by definition, exists only between a man and a
The central purpose of
the book is to show that conjugal marriage laws are rationally grounded. While doing that, the authors argue
that marriage is a moral reality“a human good with an objective structure,
which it is inherently good for us to live out.” Their syllogism:
Premise A: “Marriages have always been the main
and most effective means of rearing
healthy, happy, and well-integrated children.”
Premise B: “The
health and order of society depend on the rearing of healthy, happy, and
Conclusion: “That is why law, though it may
take no notice of ordinary friendships, should recognize and support marriages”
The authors want to be
clear: Giving benefits to same-sex relationships is not the problem; what bodes ill for the common good (the
good of society) is redefining
marriage. Why? If the law redefines marriage to
include same-sex partners, many in society will come to see marriage as
an emotional union (the revisionist view). In negative terms, marriage
will then come to be
misunderstood. Why is that
problematic? Because, they say,
“to the extent that marriage is misunderstood, it will be harder to see
point of its norms, to live by them, and to urge them on others” (p.
7). The norms? Exclusivity, permanence, and, hence, family stability.
The sense here is that
the misunderstanding of marriage will come as a result of any redefinition of
marriage. In truth, the
emotional-union view of marriage has been constantly gaining ground for the
past 45 years. Contemporary
revisionists are simply splicing into a power grid already there. The turbine that started the
transformation from the conjugal view to the revisionist view, and continues to
power it, is the mindset that must control
all aspects of new human life. I
am talking about an objective, historical development: Contraception engendered
a “contraceptive mentality” which, in turn, pushed the legalization of abortion
as a “contraceptive” backup, which, in turn, raises the specter of infanticide
as a backup for botched abortions.
All the controls on life are linked, and all have affected, and will
affect, the way we look at marriage.
If the procreative dimension of marriage is seen as a major liability
and something to be stalled, neutralized, or eradicated, then the
emotional-bond factor of marriage automatically moves to the front.
(Obviously, the above
comment would not be included in What Is Marriage? since it introduces the moral dimension of human
sexuality. A moral slant might
stop the prospective reader who would be open to cultural and political
arguments, but not to ethical ones.
By the by, the authors are under no illusion that reasonable arguments
will move those who do not want to be moved by reasonable arguments. They see the debate as between people
of “sound mind and character who disagree on the solution to what they agree is
a debate worth having.” So the
book is directed to revisionists who have the requisite mind and character. How many revisionists are of that
ilk? The authors are much more
optimistic than I am.)
Marriage, say the
authors, brings many cultural and political goods to the table, and that is why
the state is involved with marriage in the first place. It follows that, if marriage is
redefined, those cultural and political goods will be damaged. Said goods are real marital
fulfillment, spousal well-being, child well-being, friendship, religious
liberty, and limited government. In Chapter 4 (“What’s the Harm?”), the
authors address each of these goods and its dissolution if marriage is
redefined. The section on
friendship is unexpected. The
argument is this: If marriage is basically an emotional union, then friendship
becomes a lesser form of marriage, thereby losing much of its own uniqueness
and worthiness. The section on
religious liberty is crucial. All
pastors, deacons, and lawyers (open to pro bono work) should
pay particular attention to the
authors’ warning for the present and future. They do not hyperbolize
here. Indeed, they cannothow can one exaggerate an approaching
The authors are adamant
about their overall approach. The
book is not about homosexuality, makes no appeal to divine revelation or religious authority, uses
social science and history only
in supporting roles, and is mainly
1Challenges to Revisionists
The cornerstone of this
chapter is the statement that basic human goods help us thrive. Examples
of those goods are health, knowledge, play, aesthetic delight, and
friendship. Based on such goods,
the questions become: What is distinctive about marriage? And what kind of relationship must two
persons have to enjoy the specific good of marriage? The authors then assert that those who seek to redefine
marriage are mistaking human goods for legal artifacts. That is as confrontational as the book
The chapter also shows
why the revisionist view must be false.
It does so by highlighting the fact that such a view cannot account
for three points common to both sides of the debate:
(1) The state has an interest in regulating
certain relationships. Every culture we
know legally regulates marriage. Pertinent question: Regarding the revisionist
view, why involve the state in what amounts to legal regulation of tenderness?
(2) The state’s interest exists only if the
relationships are sexual. Pertinent
questions: Why is sex more expressive of marriage than other pleasing
activities that build attachment?
What unifies sex and the other features of marriage as one good?
(3) The state’s interest exists only if those
relationships are monogamous. Emotions are not a good center around
which to form vows, say the authors.
Furthermore, revisionists have trouble linking sex and marriage, marriage
and exclusivity, or marriage and family life.
Upshot: If one thinks that conjugal marriage laws unjustly
discriminate against same-sex relationships, one will have no way of showing
why the same is not true of multiple-partner and nonsexual relationships. The authors sum up the chapter well:
“As we deprive marriage policy of definite shape, we deprive it of public
purpose” (p. 21).
Here the authors show
why the conjugal view can only be possible between two people and why spousal
commitment is meant to be exclusive. Why can sexual union make two people one body as nothing else
can? The answer is layered, and a
paraphrase or two would not do the argument justice. The following quotes give a measure of the depth the layers
it is a remarkable fact that there is one respect in which this highest kind of
bodily unity is possible between two
individuals, one function for which a mate really does complete us: sexual reproduction. In coitus, and there alone, a man and a woman’s bodies
participate by virtue of their sexual complementarity in a coordination that
has the biological purpose of reproductiona function that neither can perform
It is the coordination toward a single end
that makes the union; achieving the end would deepen the union but is not
necessary for it.
Our legal and philosophical traditions have, significantly, long termed this
act the generative act. If (and
only if) coitus is a free and loving expression of the spouses’ commitment,
then it is also a marital act.
So a husband and wife’s loving bodily union in coitus and the special kind of
relationship that it seals are valuable, even when conception is neither sought
nor achieved. But two men, two
women, and larger groups cannot achieve organic bodily union: there is no
bodily good or function toward which their bodies can coordinate (pp. 26-27).
In the same chapter,
the authors cover the subdivisions, “procreation and domestic life” and “permanence
and exclusivity.” Under the first,
they say that “marriage is ordered to family life because the act by which
spouses make love also makes new life; one and the same act both seals the
marriage and brings forth children” (p. 30). Under the second, they state what all spouses know inherently,
namely, that permanence and exclusivity (comprehensive commitment) are
essential to marriage and the stability of the family.
By contrast, permanence
and exclusivity are clearly optional in the revisionist account of marriage
since the focus is on the emotional bond itself. The conjugal view, then, better explains why spouses should
pledge sexual exclusivity at all, since it “distinguishes marriage by a certain
type of cooperation, defined by certain common ends: bodily union and its
natural fulfillment in children and family life.” The conjugal view, therefore, “is not at all arbitrary in
picking out sexual activity as central to the vow of exclusivity” (p. 34).
State and Marriage
rely on families for stability and strength. Under the subdivision, “Why Civil Marriage?”,
the authors argue that the state must be
involved with marriage. Why? “Because the public functions of marriageboth to require and to empower
parents (especially fathers) to care for their children and each otherrequire
society-wide coordination” (p. 40).
And here is another way of answering the question:
Children need time, care, and supervision to mature. Civilization depends on healthy, upright, productive
citizens. Strong marriages produce
healthy, upright, productive citizens, so civilization depends on strong
marriages. Therefore, the state is
called to be involvedit is part of the state’s vocation, if you
will, to support marriage and family.
Marriage, if redefined,
will not be automatically tied to the goods just talked about:
comprehensiveness, procreation, domestic life, permanence, and
exclusivity. With the dissolution
of those goods, comes the dissolution of marriage. Whereas a strong marriage culture spells limited government,
an ambiguous married culture (“where marriages never form or easily break
down”) will require the state to expand in order “to fill the domestic vacuum
by lawsuits to determine paternity, visitation rights, child support, and
4What’s the Harm?
This crucial chapter
has already been mentioned, but it is well to take note of the opening
revisionist question: “How would gay civil marriage affect your lives,
liberties, or opportunities, or your own marriages?” Again the authors answer in syllogistic style:
(1) Law tends to shape beliefs. (“Tends,” for this reviewer, is too
restrained. Roe vs. Wade, for example, shaped, and then some.)
(2) Beliefs shape behavior. “No one acts in a void.
We all take cues from cultural norms, shaped by the law.”
Beliefs and behavior affect human interests and well-being.
say the authors, revisionists agree that it matters what a state or nation “calls a marriage, because this affects how [citizens] come
to think of marriage” (p. 54).
Chapter 4 is important,
because it faces, head-on, the slings and arrows that come one’s way when
supporting the conjugal view of marriage.
Additionally, it cites helpful articles and studies which help form the
grist of arguments and counter-arguments.
5Justice and Equality
Here the authors spotlight infertility and interracial marriage vis-`a-vis the
conjugal view of marriage. First,
the authors set the backdrop: “The conjugal view is internally consistent, and
it respects the principle that people of all inclinations have equal dignity
and title to all the same rights” (p. 73).
a man and woman form a true marriage when they “establish the comprehensive
mind-and-body union that would be completed by and apt for procreation and
domestic life and that thus inherently calls for permanent and exclusive
commitment” (p. 74). In other
words, true marriage comes to be when a couple forms a union of mind and body
that bespeaks procreation and family which, in turn, bespeak permanence and
The couple can be
infertile and still have that comprehensive union with its inherent intentions
and goods. Indeed, say the
authors, “to recognize only fertile marriages would be to suggest that marriage
is valuable only as a means to childrenand not what it truly is, a good in
itself” (p. 77). John Paul II’s
take is the same: “In fact, every act of true love toward a human being bears
witness to and perfects the spiritual fecundity of the family…. For everyone this perspective is full
of value and commitment, and it can be an inspiration in particular for couples
who experience physical sterility” (Familiaris Consortio, 41).
marriage, revisionists often equate traditional marriage laws with interracial-marriage
bans throughout the South during the early half of the 20th
Century. The authors correctly
point out that those who opposed interracial marriage did so, not because they
thought such marriages could not exist, but because they wanted to keep the two
races from mixing. It was not marriage discrimination but, rather, color-of-possible-progeny discrimination.
The bottom line of the
chapter is in three succinct parts:
(1) “… marriage is not a legal construct
with totally malleable contoursit is not ‘just a contract.’ Instead, some sexual relationships are
instances of a distinctive kind of bond that has its own value and structure,
which the state did not invent and has no power to define.
(2) “… the state is within its rights to recognize
only true marriages.”
(3) “… there is no general right to marry
the person you love, if this means a right to have any consensual relationship
recognized as marriage. There is
only a general right not to be prevented from forming a true marriage” (pp.
short, equality means treating like cases alike, and the conjugal view of
marriage is not like any other relationship.
6A Cruel Bargain?
The authors take on the
“argument from compassion,” to wit: keeping the traditional definition of
marriage would continue to hurt the feelings of a certain segment of
society. If same-sex couples do
not have access to marriage, the thinking goes, then their relationships are, de
facto, stigmatized. In a sentence, the authors respond:
“Redefining civil marriage means pretending otherwise.” In
other words, to inject other relationships with the language of real marriage,
legal or otherwise, would be tantamount to playing make-believe. And the consequences of playing
make-believe have already been spelled out.
A final, well-fashioned
quote: “Not recognizing certain relationships as civil marriages will not make
people lonelier unless we embrace the revisionist idea that emotional intimacy
is what sets marriage apart, so that it is socially unacceptable to seek
companionship outside it.” With
that, the authors have forehanded the ball hard into the revisionists’
Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense
Related on CWR:
by Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George
Encounter Books, 2012
"Further Thoughts on What Is Marriage?"
by John S. Hamlon (June 26, 2013).
"Defending Marriage, and Why It Matters"
(April 8, 2013): An interview with Ryan T. Anderson, co-author of What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense