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  • Reflecting on the Marriage Question

    On Tuesday, citizens in Maryland, Minnesota, Washington, and Maine will consider ballot questions on marriage. While The New York Times doesn’t want citizens deciding the civic meaning and purpose of marriage for themselves, Sherif Girgis and I argue on National Review Online that “we the people” should decide it for ourselves:

    Citizens should seek to enshrine in law a sound conception of marriage, taking account of sexual embodiment and complementarity, the way sexual powers are ordered to procreation, and the ideal family structure for providing children with both mother and father.

    As we argue with Robert P. George in our new book What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense, marriage is a pre-political good springing from human nature itself. Prior to any governmental diktats, marriage is, of its essence, a comprehensive (mind-body) union of persons, ordered to the comprehensive sharing of family life. And only as a result of both these facts, it alone calls in a principled way for comprehensive commitment: permanent and exclusive. Marriage is, in short, a conjugal union. It makes a man and woman “one flesh” — in acts of conjugal love, and in the children that love brings forth — for the whole of life.

    Some people fear that government involvement in marriage is at odds with principles of limited government. But as I argue at Doublethink, promoting marriage as a conjugal union between a man and a woman is the least restrictive way a government can help ensure that children are reared to become healthy, upright, economically productive and responsible citizens that make limited government possible.

    Government promotes the institution of marriage because of the ways in which marriage serves the political common good. Marriage brings together a man and woman as husband and wife to be father and mother to any children their union produces. As the sexual acts that unite a man and a woman are the same acts that bring forth new life, the state has an interest in channeling sexual desire toward a stable relationship: marriage. As children have a right to, and tend to do best when, reared by their mother and father, the state protects child welfare by encouraging adults to make commitments to each other and their children by living according to the norms of marriage. So while the state disregards our ordinary friendships and extended family relationships, it rightly regulates and promotes marriage and marital childbearing and rearing.

    Those who support recognizing same-sex relationships as if they were marriages frequently argue that there are “no differences” between conjugal marriage and same-sex relations, especially when it comes to the outcomes for children. In two articles for Public Discourse, political scientist Matthew Franck documents the controversy surrounding Mark Regnerus’s recent study showing that children of parents who had same-sex relationships tend to have, on average, more negative outcomes; and points to new analyses that vindicate Regnerus’s conclusions. Franck concludes:

    The controversy over same-sex marriage, and over the place of social science findings in debating the question, will doubtless continue. But Regnerus’s contribution has complicated a set of breezy assumptions too widely held: that children raised in these new family structures suffer no disadvantages whatsoever, and that stable, long-term same-sex-parent families can even be found in significant numbers. In so doing, Regnerus has moved our national conversation on the family forward, in a positive direction, with greater awareness of what is at stake in the public policy choices we make.

    Yet response to Regnerus’s study has been extremely vitriolic, characterizing it as “anti-gay.” More thoughtful reactions have come from people like Robert Oscar Lopez, who argued that it finally collected the data that tells his story of growing up with two moms. Now Lopez, himself a bisexual, urges caution on the question of marriage: “mind the consequences of redefining marriage. It would be a permanent change, one like Roe v. Wade. We cannot reverse it if we find that it isn’t going well.”

    Marriage is the fundamental institution of civil society. Anyone reflecting on questions about it should give serious consideration to the six articles linked in this post.

    Posted in Featured [slideshow_deploy]

    12 Responses to Reflecting on the Marriage Question

    1. Scott_Rose says:

      The Regnerus study was booby-trapped in its design and published only through corrupt peer review. The most serious matter in this is nothing to do with same-sex parenting — (given that the study tells us nothing about that topic) – but rather, with the fact that the dishonest behavior has undermined the trust on which science is based. Regnerus's main funder is the Witherspoon Institute. In 2010, Witherspoon's Brad Wilcox, Director of the Program for Marriage, Family and Democracy recruited Regnerus to do the study. Witherspoon gave Regnerus a $55K planning grant and then Wilcox collaborated with him on study design. Only then did Witherspoon arrange for full funding for Regnerus. Yet, both Regnerus and Witherspoon lie to the public, saying that the funders had nothing to do with study design. Honest researchers and honest funders do not lie to the public like that. Wilcox additionally collaborated with Regnerus on data collection, data analysis and interpretation. He is an old crony to both Regnerus and to James Wright, editor of the Elsevier journal that published Regnerus, "Social Science Research." Additionally, Wilcox is on the editorial board of Social Science Research. And, a preponderance of evidence shows that he was permitted to do peer review. Moreover, Regnerus's second funder, The Bradley Foundation, financially supports Wilcox's University of Virginia programs, as does the Witherspoon Institute. This pile-up of conflicts of interest was not voluntarily disclosed by Regnerus, Wilcox, Witherspoon or James Wright, it was discovered through investigative work. This is a travesty of scientific procedure and publishing and reveals only the parties' deep dishonesty and contempt for science.

    2. JeffreyRO5 says:

      Religionists better be careful what they wish for: if they keep trying to define civil marriage as holy matrimony, they will force the government to get out of the marriage business and with that, the rights that go with being married. In our country, the government may not support religious pursuits.

      • Todd says:


        You are wrong about the country not being able to support religious efforts. The government cannot establish a national religion or tie laws or government favor to any one particular religion.

        The founding fathers were very religious (at least most of them) and I think would be appalled at how we have taken the Constitution and created this "Separation of Church and State" mentality in this country.

      • Greg says:

        Congratulations! In the space of only two sentences, you contradict yourself. Nicely done! You state that the government will need to "get out of the marriage business" and then you state that "the goverment may not support religious pursuits." Hmmm…

    3. Beth says:

      Is marriage really a "pre-political good" fundamentally involving one man and one woman? Is that what our caveman ancestors really did? Most ancient societies, to my knowledge, tended to be polygamous, and women were in general not treated as equals to men. I don't know where this idea of "natural" marriage came from then– if anything, it is a product of the 1800s and later.

      • george says:

        Cultural evolution beginning a million years ago developed stable pair mating, long term education of the off spring and division of labor over the previous singular, random way. Evolutoon is not about "equal", its about experimental success.

        Anything else is a new creationism.

    4. Whitney Galbraith says:

      We are at the point of redesigning society itself on the basis of homosexuality. Specifically, if government, in any of it guises, redefines marriage at all, it will redefine it out of existence. If marriage is arbitrarily redefined as being between any two people, it will then become any three people, or more. We will then have opened the way for bigamy, trigonamy, polygamy, incest, pedophilia, even bestiality. Why are we doing this?

      • Amy says:

        I love when people make the argument that someone choosing to spend their life with someone of the same gender leads to them wanting to be in a relationship with their French Bulldog or a toddler. Please find an argument that isn't so incredibly assinign. I'm a gay conservative and it's so hard to listen to the comments of those who I share so many views in common, accuse my life as the pathway to haneous sexual crimes against children and animals.

        • KAHR50 says:

          Not once did they say a same sex marriage person would then turn to these heinous acts.

          What it states is that once a new definition arises, then other new definitions have a precedent, and persons who are "on the pathway to haneous [ed. heinous] sexual crimes…" will lobby legally and 'rightly' according to precedent that they too should be recognized as a union.

          No, the truth is this has no place in politics. There should be no definition politically. Societally we create a set of mores that either include or exclude certain behaviors – and tolerate those who are not within "the norm" as long as they do not violate another person. For example, it would be hard to argue that a child molestor who wants to 'wed' their 6 year old love interest is not in violation of another person.

          And before you get all upset over the use of the words "the norm", remember what it means. It is what the majority does – it is not a prejiducial concept. If 10 percent do one thing and 90 percent do another, the 10 percent are not within "the norm".

        • Bobbie says:

          why can't you accept marriage as it has been throughout time? Changing the definition of a word can lead to many incredibly asinine arguments. This one just the beginning…

    5. Ed Barron says:

      Marriage as government is concerned, is nothing more than a "business arrangement" between two individuals with certain tax considerations and custodial rights/responsibilities of the children (if any). If you question this scenario, ask what occurs in a divorce – a division of assets. Neither love or religion are questioned, only "who gets what" from the assets.

    6. Jerry says:

      Social "Science" is hardly ever definitive. It lacks experimental design and in so doing can never really say anything about causation. It is really silly to try to condemn same-sex parenting using a paper. Why can't we just judge parents as individuals –either one is a good parent or one is not? You can find good/ bad examples in any demographic. Why are we driven to identity politics on this very intimate issue?

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