What Is Marriage? - Encounter Books

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What Is Marriage?

Man and Woman: A Defense

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Publication Details

Paperback / 152 pages
ISBN: 9781641771474
Available: 7/21/2020

What Is Marriage?
Man and Woman: A Defense

Until yesterday, no society had seen marriage as anything other than a conjugal partnership: a male-female union. What Is Marriage? identifies and defends the reasons for this historic consensus and shows why redefining civil marriage is unnecessary, unreasonable, and contrary to the common good.

Originally published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, this book’s core argument quickly became the year’s most widely read essay on the most prominent scholarly network in the social sciences. Since then, it has been cited and debated by scholars and activists throughout the world as the most formidable defense of the tradition ever written. Now revamped, expanded, and vastly enhanced, What Is Marriage? stands poised to meet its moment as few books of this generation have.

Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George offer a devastating critique of the idea that equality requires redefining marriage. They show why both sides must first answer the question of what marriage really is. They defend the principle that marriage, as a comprehensive union of mind and body ordered to family life, unites a man and a woman as husband and wife, and they document the social value of applying this principle in law.

Most compellingly, they show that those who embrace same-sex civil marriage leave no firm ground—none—for not recognizing every relationship describable in polite English, including polyamorous sexual unions, and that enshrining their view would further erode the norms of marriage, and hence the common good.

Finally, What Is Marriage? decisively answers common objections: that the historic view is rooted in bigotry, like laws forbidding interracial marriage; that it is callous to people’s needs; that it can’t show the harm of recognizing same-sex couplings, or the point of recognizing infertile ones; and that it treats a mere “social construct” as if it were natural, or an unreasoned religious view as if it were rational.

If the marriage debate in America is decided soon, it will be with this book’s help or despite its powerful arguments.

About the Authors

Sherif Girgis, a Research Scholar of the Witherspoon Institute, is completing his PhD in philosophy at Princeton and JD at Yale Law School, where he has served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal.

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Ryan T. Anderson, Ph.D., is the President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and the Founding Editor of Public Discourse, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute of Princeton, New Jersey.

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Robert P. George is a Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School and McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. He is a member of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

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For all the difficulty and ambiguity of making value judgments, the broadest outlines of the good life are plain to most of us.

One man has a healthy body and a happy family, an enriching complement of hobbies and a keen sense for Bob Dylan. By day he teaches high-school seniors to savor the rhythm and wit of Chaucer’s poetry; by night friends help him savor red Bordeaux. A second man is debilitated, depressed, desensitized and detached. It doesn’t take a poet or a saint to see who is better off.

It is equally clear that there is nothing special about Dylan, Chaucer, or Bordeaux that gives the first man his advantage. There is no single good life, but a range of good lives: countless ways of blending the basic ingredients of human thriving. But the ingredients themselves—the most foundational ways in which we can thrive, what we call “basic human goods”—are more limited. They include only those conditions or activities that make us better off in themselves, whether or not they bring us other goods. It makes sense for us to want these for their own sake. Health, knowledge, play and aesthetic delight are a few examples, and another is friendship.

Yet another basic human good, we think, is marriage. A critical point here is that marriage and ordinary friendship do not simply offer different degrees of the same type of human good, like two checks written in different amounts. Nor are they simply varieties of the same good, like the enjoyment of a Matisse and the enjoyment of a Van Gogh. Each is its own kind of good, a way of thriving that is different in kind from the other. Hence, while spouses should be friends, what it takes to be a good friend is not just the same as what it takes to be a good spouse.

What, then, is distinctive about marriage? All sorts of practices are grafted onto marriage by law and custom, but what kind of relationship must any two people have to enjoy the specific good of marriage? This framing of the question, though unusual, should not seem mysterious; we could ask it just as well of other basic human goods.

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