The Meaning of Marriage

The discussion of protecting and promoting marriage is often dismissed as a merely religious issue. This tendency to restrict marriage to the realm of beliefs and present its value as no more than a matter of opinion is challenged by a collection of essays entitled "The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market and Morals", co-edited by Robert P. George and Jean Bethke Elshtain. George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence in the Politics Department at Princeton University and Elshtain holds the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Chair for Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago.

The essays contain most recent scholarly findings on marriage from a variety of disciplines to show the crucial importance of marriage for society and point out that children are the reason for public interest in marriage.

Below is an interview with Robert P. George, co-editor of "The Meaning of Marriage".

Marriage is Not a Merely Religious Issue- the Public Interest of Marriage is Evident from Reason

Q: What compelled you to compile this book of essays on the meaning of marriage? What is so special about this collection?

"...the essays demonstrate the public importance of marriage and our ability as rational people to grasp the meaning, value and significance of marriage even when we do not invoke or appeal to special revelation or religious tradition."

George: These essays are important because they demonstrate that marriage isn't a sectarian issue or even a narrowly religious one.

Quite the contrary, the essays demonstrate the public importance of marriage and our ability as rational people to grasp the meaning, value and significance of marriage even when we do not invoke or appeal to special revelation or religious tradition.

Last December, Jean Bethke Elshtain and I hosted a three-day conference, sponsored by the Witherspoon Institute, that brought together leading scholars from across the academic disciplines -- history, ethics, economics, law and public policy, philosophy, sociology, psychiatry, political science -- to discuss marriage.

Scholars presented papers on their academic discipline's contribution to our understanding of marriage, and each of the disciplines offered profound insights into the importance of marriage both for individuals and for the nation.

The papers did not invoke revelation, religious authority or sectarian reasoning. This was the best of what's been termed "public reason" at work.

And the conclusions from everyone at the conference were that: a) marriage matters; b) marriage is in crisis; and c) we could be facing the virtual abolition of marriage if we go down the road of same-sex "marriage."

Professor Elshtain of the University of Chicago and I decided to compile these essays into a book because the information and arguments we were fortunate enough to have heard at the conference need to be disseminated throughout our nation. Every American who cares about civil society, child well-being and the condition of marriage in our culture needs to know about the scholarly findings reported in this collection.

"...the conclusions from everyone at the conference were that: a) marriage matters; b) marriage is in crisis; and c) we could be facing the virtual abolition of marriage if we go down the road of same-sex 'marriage'."

Social Issues Connected with Marriage; Unique Importance of Children

Right now there is a public debate going on about marriage, but all too often it has devolved into shouting matches about same-sex "marriage" alone.

Our project tried to avoid this pitfall, and to examine the entire range of social problems at stake in the discussion of marriage: fatherlessness, cohabitation, divorce, out of wedlock childbearing, etc.

While I cannot mention every chapter in the book, there are three essays written from a social science perspective that I will mention.

Don Browning of the University of Chicago and Elizabeth Marquardt -- author of "World's Apart" -- have a fascinating essay, "What About the Children? Liberal Cautions on Same-Sex Marriage."

Maggie Gallagher, the president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, has an insightful essay entitled, "(How) Does Marriage Protect Child Well-Being?"

W. Bradford Wilcox, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, concludes the book with a reflection on marriage's impact on the least well off in society, in his essay, "Suffer the Little Children: Marriage, the Poor and the Commonweal."

Allowing Same-Sex "Marriage" Would Erode the True Meaning of Marriage and Pave the Way for Polygamy

Other essays include an argument on how the acceptance of same-sex "marriage" would erase the grounds of principle for rejecting polygamy and polyamory, that is, multiple partner sexual unions; an illuminating discussion of how "no-fault divorce" -- unilateral divorce -- has weakened marriage as an institution, and how the lessons learned from our mistake in embracing "no-fault" divorce might make us cautious as we contemplate even more radical changes; and arguments about the importance of marriage for the legal, political and economic welfare of our society.

When a generation ago people began to discuss "no-fault" divorce, few even considered whether allowing Adam to more easily divorce Eve would have anything other than positive effects on marriage and society as a whole.

In hindsight we can see how the introduction of "no-fault" divorce altered -- for the worse -- people's understanding of the meaning of marriage, with profoundly damaging social consequences.

That experience should make us very skeptical of claims that we can recognize the relationship of Adam and Steve as a "marriage" without further eroding a sound public understanding of what marriage means and what it truly is.

Marriage is a Basic Human Good and an End in Itself

Q: Turning from the book as a whole to your particular contribution, a chapter on practical philosophy and marriage: What do you mean in your essay when you say that marriage is an "intrinsic good"?

George: I mean that marriage is properly understood as more than a means to ends that are extrinsic to it.

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