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FAMILY/ The Future of Marriage

RYAN ANDERSON summarises the points that define what marriage is and why it matters for the whole society. The future of the country needs that policy gets the nature of marriage right

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This week’s Ricochet posts on marriage have made a sustained argument about what marriage is and why marriage matters. For a more detailed treatment of these issues, look to my new book, co-authored with Sherif Girgis and Robert P. George, What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense.

Monday’s post pointed out that long before there was a debate about same-sex marriage, there was a debate about marriage. It launched a “marriage movement,” to explain why marriage was good for the men and women who were faithful to its responsibilities, and for the children they reared. Over the last decade a new question emerged: What does society have to lose by redefining marriage as we’ve always known it?

Answering that question must begin with a clear idea of what marriage is. Tuesday’s post explained that marriage is a uniquely comprehensive union. It involves a union of hearts and minds; but also—and distinctively—a bodily union made possible by sexual complementarity. As the act by which spouses make marital love also makes new life, so marriage itself is inherently extended and enriched by family life and calls for similarly all-encompassing commitment: permanent and exclusive. In short, marriage unites a man and woman holistically—emotionally and bodily, in acts of conjugal love and in the children such love brings forth—for the whole of life.

If this is what marriage is, why does the government care? Wednesday’s post explained the many ways in which marriage contributes to the public good. Government cares about male-female sexual relationships because these alone produce new human beings. For highly dependent infants, there is no path to physical, moral, and cultural maturity—no path to personal responsibility—without a long and delicate process of ongoing care and supervision. Unless children do mature, they never will become healthy, upright, productive members of society. Marriage exists to make men and women responsible to each other and any children they might have.

Thursday’s post documented statements by many leaders of the effort to redefine marriage that show no interest in retaining marital norms—in fact, quite the opposite. Redefining marriage to abandon the norm of male-female sexual complementarity also would make other essential characteristics—such as monogamy, exclusivity and permanency—optional. This is increasingly confirmed by the rhetoric and arguments of those who would redefine marriage, and by the policies that their more candid leaders increasingly embrace.