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Book Review: What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, by Sherif Girgis, Ryan T Anderson, and Robert P George. Paperback; 133 pages, US$15.99.

Now that a large group of Republicans has joined the Obama administration’s Supreme Court brief in support of gay marriage, it’s time for conservatives to come to terms with the implications of this prospective sea-change in the culture. Robert P. George, whom the New York Times characterized as America’s leading Christian conservative philosopher, and two of his students have published a brilliant analysis of the issue and its ramifications which every conservative should read. My review appeared this morning in Asia Times Online. It is cross-posted below.


Looking for marriage in all the wrong places
By Spengler

Two mutually incompatible arguments are advanced to defend gay marriage. The first states that marriage is a good thing provided by the state, such that gay people have the same right to it as anyone else. The second states that marriage is a bad thing, and that bringing gay people into the institution of marriage will destroy it from the inside.

Michelangelo Signorile, a prominent gay activist, urges people in same-sex relationships to “demand the right to marry not as a

way of adhering to society’s moral codes but rather to debunk a myth and radically alter an archaic institution”. They should “fight for same-sex marriage and its benefits and then, once granted, redefine the institution of marriage completely, because the most subversive action lesbians and gay men can undertake … is to transform the notion of ‘family’ entirely”.

Signorile is quoted in a new book by the distinguished legal philosopher Robert P George and two of his students. They contend that marriage is an institution quite different from the domestic arrangement that advocates of gay marriage have in mind. Gay marriage as such isn’t the issue, argue the authors: it an attempt to do away with the traditional view of marriage as a comprehensive union, and replace it with a view marriage as an especially intense sort of emotional bond.

Signorile might be tardy in his plan to “redefine the institution of marriage”. Hedonistic heterosexuals have been hacking away at the traditional concept of marriage for years. Whether gay marriage becomes law or not, the institution of marriage in the United States may erode so quickly that it will cease to perform its social function, that is, rearing a new generation of Americans.

A Pew Research survey in 2010 found that almost 40% of Americans consider marriage “obsolete,” versus 28% in 1978. They are acting on their convictions. Politicians of both parties are adjusting to the perceived shift in opinion. The Obama administration has petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn California’s law against gay marriage, and 100 prominent Republicans last week signed a supporting legal brief to the Court.

Professor George and his colleagues defend traditional marriage from the vantage point of natural law, a minority viewpoint in an era where the capricious definition of one’s identity is the focal point of culture. One may quibble with natural law as a concept or with the way that Professor George applies it, but there are some natural criteria which cannot be gainsaid. Here’s one: will our actions make us extinct? The natural definition of marriage advanced by George, Girgis and Anderson is consistent with the continued existence of the United States; the “whatever” definition supported by their opponents manifestly is not.

America’s fertility rate dipped to just 1.9 children per female in 2010 in the Census Bureau’s estimate, well below the 2.1 level required to maintain the present population. Two-fifths of the fewer American children born in 2010, moreover, were born out of marriage.

Marriage rates have fallen in parallel to the decline in fertility. Only 51% of Americans 18 and over were married in 2010, compared to 72% in 1960. The numbers are much worse for minorities, with just 31% of adult African-Americans married in 2010, versus 72% in 1960. 40% of American women never have married, a proportion that is much higher among minorities (55% of black women and 49% of Hispanic women). Women who marry do so at a much later age (27 years in 2010 versus 21 years in 1950).

Sociologist Charles Murray argues that the great divide is less a matter of race than social status. “In 1960,” he wrote last year, “just 2% of all white births were nonmarital. When we first started recording the education level of mothers in 1970, 6% of births to white women with no more than a high-school education … were out of wedlock. By 2008, 44% were nonmarital. Among college-educated … less than 6% of all births were out of wedlock as of 2008, up from 1% in 1970.”

In the short run, the decline of the traditional family causes an increase in dependency. 35% of American families now receive some form of welfare, that is, means-tested government aid. “In 2007, single-parent families were nearly six times more likely to be poor than married-parent families,” notes Heather MacDonald.

In the long run, lower birth rates translate into an unsustainable proportion of elderly dependents. On the current trend, there will be only two workers to support every Social Security recipient, against five workers in 1960; if fertility continues to decline the situation will be much worse. And if more children are raised in single-parent households, fewer will be fit for employment.

Why should the state have an interest in intimate personal relationships? Nowhere do the authors suggest that consenting adults should be prevented from forming whatever intense emotional bonds they please. But it is a fallacy to conflate the issue of freedom of sexual expression with the institution of marriage. The state has an interest in children, first of all because it has a responsibility to promote their welfare, and secondly because the common institutions of society have an interest in our common future. Marriage, the authors write,

is a bond of a special kind. It unites spouses in body as well as mind and heart, and it is especially apt for, and enriched by, procreation and family life. In light of both these facts, it alone objectively calls for commitments of permanence and exclusivity. Spouses vow their whole selves for their whole lives. This comprehensiveness puts the value of marriage in a class apart from the value of other relationships.

That is the conjugal view of marriage, in the authors’ definition. It is permanent and comprehensive, as opposed to an intense emotional bond, which may dissolve as quickly as it was formed. That may be convenient for lovers but catastrophic for their children.

Only the union of a man and woman can be comprehensive, the authors argue. The issue isn’t dignity, which all human beings deserve. Instead, the issue is what a married man and woman can do that no other human arrangement can do: “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 a marriage and brings forth children. That is why marriage alone is the loving union of mind and body fulfilled by the procreation – and rearing – of whole new human beings.”

Across the ideological spectrum, researchers agree that “the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage. Children in single-parent families, children born to unmarried mothers, and children in stepfamilies or cohabiting relationships face higher risks of poorer outcomes,” as the research institution Child Trends concluded. And as Professor Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project concluded, “The core message…is that the wealth of nations depends in no small part on the health of the family.”

Adoption by gay parents does not do as well: The authors present a wide range of research showing that “compared to children of parents at least one of whom had a gay or lesbian relationship, those reared by their married biological parents were found to have fared better on dozens of indicators”. Part of the reason that married biological parents do better may have to do with sexual exclusivity, which is virtually nonexistent in male homosexual relationships according to the standard research on the subject.

The state cannot help but take an interest, for it gets the bill for the damages when marriage breaks down. As George et al write, “Since a strong marriage culture is good for children, spouses, indeed our whole economy, and especially the poor, it also serves the cause of limited government. Most obviously, where marriages never form or easily break down, the state expands to fill the domestic vacuum by lawsuits to determine paternity, visitation rights, child support, and alimony.”

That is the fallacy of the libertarian argument in favor of absenting the state from all questions involving personal intimacy. Society can get along with a small government if it has strong private institutions: families, churches, charities, schools and volunteer associations. Among these the family has more weight than all the rest put together. The state, and above all a state that seeks self-limitation, needs the family to flourish.

Professor George, like his co-author Ryan Anderson, is a religious Catholic (I do not know Gergis’ beliefs). It is a particular strength of their book to propound a concept of marriage on the basis of nature and social benefit, with no recourse to the tenets of any religion. All of their well-reasoned arguments, nonetheless, will appeal almost exclusively to those who believe in traditional marriage for religious reasons. Why should this be the case?

Gergis, Anderson and George rightly argue that the two contending concepts of marriage stem from two quite different views of human nature. But it is just as possible to argue that two incompatible religious concepts are at issue. A useful formulation of the problem is found in the 1987 film Moonstruck:

Rose: Listen, Johnny, there’s a question I want to ask you. And I want you to tell me the truth if you can. Why do men chase women?

Johnny: Well. There’s the Bible story. God took a rib from Adam and made Eve. Maybe men chase women to get the rib back. When God took the rib, he left a hole there, place where there used to be something. And the women have that. Maybe a man isn’t complete as a man without a woman.

Rose: But why would a man need more than one woman?

Johnny: I don’t know. Maybe because he fears death.

[Rose leaps up, very excited.] Rose: That’s it! That’s the reason!
Note that Johnny begins with the argument from Natural Law, and then proceeds to the problem of mortality. Why do people fall in love in the first place? Because, as Johnny Cammareri suggests, we are everywhere and always haunted by the specter of mortality, and a certain kind of connection to another human being (or in this case beings) can intrude into our lives like a burst of eternity entering the temporal world. When we are in love, we are eternally in love; if we are separated by death, we know that we shall be reunited in heaven, or, alternately, we might wish to follow our dead beloved into the grave, like Richard Wagner’s silly sopranos.

If we place our love in the context of raising children who will continue our lives, within a faith community that we believe to be called by God to his eternal service, we feel assured of immortality: not only does our flesh continue, but it will continue in the spirit of a community whose love-relationship with God mirrors our feelings for our beloved. Such folk as this will take Professor George’s reasoning to heart.

It is not only conjugal love in the Judeo-Christian context that gives us the sense of immortality. Every kind of love does so, from the Temple prostitutes of ancient Mesopotamia to the heroines of Harlequin romances. That is what makes it love to begin with. It can be heterosexual, or not. Some of the best poetry of classical Greece and most of the love poetry of medieval Persia celebrated pederasty, in the narcissistic quest for eternal youth. Goethe’s Mephistopheles is overcome by lust for the cherubs who come to claim the soul of Faust at the end of his drama. “Now I know how you feel, unhappy lovers, when you twist your necks to gawk at your beloved! This is much pricklier than hellfire!”

Left to its own devices, love tends toward idolatry. In the bestselling novel of the 16th century, Fernando de Rojas’ La Celestina, the protagonist Calixto is so obsessed with the unattainable Melibea that, when asked his religion, he pronounces himself a “Melibeist.” Adolescents should be made to read Celestina instead of Shakespeare’s mawkish Romeo and Juliet. There would be fewer teen pregnancies.

Everyone who has loved anything more sentient than a cheeseburger is in some sense “spiritual”. A decade ago a third of respondents described themselves as “spiritual not religious,” which means that they explicitly rejected the tenets of any religion in favor of whatever they chose to invent for themselves. When Gallup in 1999 asked, “Do you think of spirituality more in a personal and individual sense or more in terms of organized religion and church doctrine?,” almost three quarters chose the “personal and individual” option. Most Americans spend their loves looking for eternity in all the wrong places, seeking personal relationships that will lift them out of this mortal coil while preserving their prerogative for infantile self-aggrandizement.

The reason that it is impossible carry on a rational conversation with gay marriage advocates is that they belong to an implacably hostile alternate religion. This new religion has armed itself with an Inquisition, ferocious as its predecessor. Say a word against gay marriage and you will be drummed out of polite society in most parts of the cultivated world. Fail to vituperate in favor gay marriage, and you will never get tenure at a major university.

Gergis, Anderson and George may not change many minds on the other side of the great divide, but their work is so well-crafted and well-reasoned that it will provoke apoplexy among their opponents. Defenders of gay marriage style themselves enlightened and reasonable; the present book proves they are nothing of the sort. If it will not convince the opposition, it exposes its irrationality. Perhaps that is as great a victory as the times afford.

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WRT Romeo and Juliet...

Shakespeare (nee 17th Earl of Oxford) had three (3) daughters.

Warped by modern treatments, his play was written to illustrate what tragedy befalls a daughter who does not follow her father's judgment. She dumps Paris, an ideal match; in favor of a sweet talking youth -- late of Rosaline -- who is scarcely an adult -- having n e v e r made his way in the world.

He meant it as a rebuke to passion.

A similar theme is embedded in Hamlet. The title character flails himself for his own impulses -- seeing in Horatio a better man -- a tempered soul.


I'm against gay divorce.

Be assured that the whole farce will collapse once jilted gays clog the docket.

Nothing so tries the soul as a co-joined purse.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Most of the people commenting are just nibbling around the edges of our problems.These problems are much more basic then gay marriage!
To get to the point,the Global Economy is ready to fall apart.When that happens we will have bigger issues to contend with then gay marriage!
IT would be like the Polish intelligencia arguing over which party should gain power in the next election in Warsaw! All of this happening 2 weeks before the Germans invaded in 1939.
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
Once you normalize homosexuality the other stuff is not far behind.

Yale hosts workshop teaching sensitivity to bestiality

People are sheep.

Come to think of it Woody Allen and his sheep were prophetic.

We have predatory elites. But unless you're grounded in the OT you won't get it. People have been this way before. And things always turned out badly. But its a slow thing.
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment


There are two legitimate arguments against same sex marriage that would be highly receptive to most Americans. The first is that same sex marriage will have a causal effect on how straights treat marriage. Causality must be demonstrated for this argument to be valid.

The second argument is that same sex marriage sets up a "slippery slope" that will eventually open the door to polygamy.

I think most people, even many liberals, would be very receptive to both arguments if the social conservatives were to make them. For the most part, they do not.

Instead, they hand-wave about marriage being for children and the like. Most people are not receptive to this because everyone knows straight people who are in stable marriages and do not have kids. Also, this kind of hand waving fails to demonstrate causality where the acceptance of same sex marriage will change how straight people treat marriage.

In other words, conservatives are shooting themselves in the foot on this issue.
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
Have nothing against gay people, they are often very nice and kind. But I am bothered by gayness as the living model presented by the left media, that means in Germany the whole media, all day long.
I like family, that is mother, father, children, grandchildren ... . It is very, very sad seeing all the childless people under my educated, some gay, colleagues and friendcircle.
I am not sure if all gays are naturally gay. I see it for some as a learned phenomenon. Or say it the other way: If I could not find a wife I could become gay too.
For some young people it is modern, so there are others they have to follow, because there are not enough spouses on the market.
It is really sorry all these young people without an appropriate partner for a nice family. And how many nice children could live but are not born out of these nonparents.
Some decades ago everybody talked about overpopulation. Okay, only few children where good as a model. But in the West it has changed completely. There a few children now and we can propagate for more. The gay model is out of touch and out of love for the future. It is doomed.
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
The commercialization of the wedding ceremony for the past 150 years may very well be the most corrosive force facing marriage. This corrosion is documented in Brides Inc. When popular culture focuses upon the spectacular wedding, to the point of parodying it in “Bridezillas”, it fails to pay attention to what a good marriage – and good family – ought to be.

The popularity of the wedding has become so ubiquitous that it has strongly affected the gay subculture. Gays and lesbians don't want to feel left out, so they seek their own weddings that they can claim to be the equal of any heterosexual couple's wedding. It is not the responsibilities of a married couple that are sought, but rather the status symbolized by a fairy tale wedding.

South African diamond mines have exported the Zulu custom of lobola – or bride price – throughout the western world for over a century. Commercials around Christmas and Valentine's Day actively promote the ideal of paying for sex – not with a plain envelope stuffed with hundred dollar bills, but with a diamond ring. Likewise, wedding attire has become the kind that is worn only once in one's life, as opposed to being the kind of attire one could wear to other highly formal occasions.

What a waste. What an utter waste. Given the idolatrous importance popular culture gives to weddings, is it any wonder that homosexuals want to be part of it? And is it any wonder that heterosexuals have become increasingly confused about what marriage really is? Some people get so addicted to weddings that one just isn't enough – they have several weddings. This merely underscores just how far the wedding has overtaken marriage in our popular culture.

The wedding industry can make a lot more money from bad marriages than from good ones. The wedding industry can make a lot more money from legalizing homosexual marriage than from defending traditional monogamous marriage. Arguments for the common good fall upon deaf ears when arguing with a wedding cake decorator who is listening to her bottom line.
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
I naively thought it would be possible to post a hyperlinked text under the new system. I won't make that mistake again...
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
I am coming to the point of view that the government should get out of marriage entirely. It may be far less damaging to the institution of marriage to put an end to all marriage laws than to subvert marriage through extending it to homosexuality.

The idea is to turn marriage into a private institution, or perhaps a religious institution, but to keep the government out of it. To put it bluntly, we can't trust the government to regulate something even so basic as marriage. Yes, this would open the doors to de facto polygamy, temporary marriage, and various forms of incest. However, taking marriage out of the realm of government control may be only means to keep marriage from getting subverted by the government.
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
Yes, the old state had an interest in a certain kind of family, but it no longer recognizably does, in the weight of its practice if not in its every contradictory pronouncement. We have to admit, I think, that the victimary culture that will contest any norm other than infantile self-aggrandizement has won the day, including the Republican party.

So it is no longer enough to expose the irrationality or the unsustainability of the present welfare state. Either the victimary state will find a way to stabilize itself in some non-parasitic fashion, in which case everything we know is wrong but how we can't yet know; or we need books that explain how the historically exceptional Judeo-Christian nuclear family will be central to any kind of non-primitive reconstruction in the collapse of the welfare state which we now just have to await, foregoing pretending that we can win again the centralized state and vanquish the leftist foe, as if we would wish to rule them or be able to convince them, absent an unmistakable revelation of their own failure - though many no doubt appreciate that they are an anti-Western death cult, so failure is, paradoxically, always proof positive.

We are now at the point where what matters is reminder of the moral imperative of survival, and imagining how to pick up the pieces after the coming collapse. Here libertarian ideas - let's say the idea that the minima state is best seen as the product of interested families and private property, and no longer their paternal overseer - have relevance if they are incomplete in some ways.
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
Mr. Goldman, with the greatest respect I disagree that the acceptance of gay marriage will weaken heterosexual marriage. I agree with you that the weakened heterosexual marriage harms society (chiefly be causing antisocial behavior and too few workers for too many retired pensioners). Heterosexual marriage is being weakened by reduced infant mortality and labor saving devices that enable women to enter the workforce; increased longevity, wealth and pensions; birth control; niche-oriented media; and other tidal changes in society. I don't see how Bill and Sam getting married is going to make John and Mary less likely to get married, stay married, and raise lots of children in a stable loving household.
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
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