The Corner

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What Is Marriage?


As Jonah has pointed out, that “Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent: Why We Must Have Both” statement is not flawless. He wrote in part: “If you’ve spent a decade or more advancing the argument that opposition to same-sex marriage is morally equivalent to opposition to interracial marriage and other Jim Crow laws, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise when people who bought your argument then go out and apply its ruthless and unforgiving logic.”

Robby George and Ryan Anderson, who quote Jonah, make a few additional points in response to the statement and recent events:

1. It is rational to support marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and supporters of same-sex marriage should stand up and say so, condemning attempts to disparage belief in marriage as a conjugal partnership as irrational — the moral and intellectual equivalent of racism, misogyny, and other forms of bigotry.

The statement issued last month falls short of such a declaration, lacking a clear acknowledgment that those with the contrary view hold a rationally defensible position. . . .

Some of the signatories have always rejected the equating of conjugal marriage laws with laws against interracial marriage; perhaps others now regret ever drawing that equivalence — though, if they do, they ought to say so. Indeed, all supporters of same-sex marriage should now repudiate it. Failing that, those who embrace the arguments for same-sex marriage are likely to continue trying to stigmatize their opponents in an effort to drive them to the margins of public life where our culture rightly deposits its haters and bigots. . . .

2. The government should not discriminate against or coerce those who speak and act on the belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Policy should protect the rights of individuals and groups to honor their conscientious judgments on the central question in the debate: What is marriage? . . .

3. The terms “marriage equality” and the “freedom to marry” sidestep the central issue of what marriage is.

Until it is clear that the marriage debate is about something — an institution that serves children and the common good and has a meaning beyond even the most intimate of feelings — it’s going to be too easy to get caught up in and distracted by accusations that keep us from making sense in law and life (and Heaven knows politics!).