What is Marriage? Same-Sex Marriage Panel at BYU 4-10-13

Today there was an extraordinary panel at BYU entitled “What is Marriage?” I took really detailed notes and I am including them below. These three individuals spoke very articulately about why we need to stand up and defend the traditional understanding of marriage as a man-woman union meant to help raise children. For the past several weeks, I have been pretty gloomy about the prospects of defeating the same-sex marriage movement. Indeed, I used to think it was inevitable. This event helped me realize that nothing is inevitable. If supporters continue to fearlessly speak out in favor of marriage things can change. We can get pro-families passed and stem the rtide of growing divorce, cohabitation etc. Yet, fighting same-sex marriage is key because it is a watershed and once passed there really is no going back. I am dedicated to speaking out in favor of traditional marriage and in favor of religious freedom no matter the costs


What is marriage?

Sherif Girgis- Yale

The argument for keeping marriage between men and women is not one rooted solely in history and its not one based on disagreement with homosexuality. It’s also not a religious argument.


There is a “Pre-theological truth” which reflects something about the human good. It reflects the truth about human nature and what makes people live and live well. It shows the wisdom of divine law and gives you a deeper appreciation for it.


Usually this debate is settled by a very different framing…One of ‘equality’. If marriage is a good thing then equality says give it to more of them on an equal basis. That framing settles the debate in favor of Same-Sex Marriage. It makes it hard for defense of traditional marriage.


Everyone believes in equality and marriage on an equal basis. But we disagree about what marriage actually means.


If there is something different about gay unions that would make them different from marriage it would be harmful to include it in our definition of marriage


What is marriage?


Definition being offered by SS Marriage advocate is that marriage is about love and union. The thing that distinguishes marriage from friendship is really just one of degree and romance. It’s based on a emotional connection.


That vision of marriage must get marriage wrong. It can’t explain other features of marriage that everyone appreciates. For instance need for permanence. That would be an arbitrary hang up from tradition based on the new definition. If you lose the romance there is no reason under that thinking to keep the marriage together.


Sexual Exclusivity also does not make sense. For some, exclusivity may or may not foster their emotional bond. Open relationships may be better in some ways. Exclusivity becomes arbitrary and unnecessary


Monogomy also does not make sense. You can have an emotional connection with 3 or 4 people rather than just one.  They can want all the same benefits and the same relationship.


Even the notion that marriage is a sexual relationship at all doesn’t make sense. Platonic bond can be intense enough to meet this standard.


This is not just a conservative position but something that is increaisngly being admited by those that support same-sex marriage. For instance, there is the statement “Beyond Marriage” that scholars have released. Argues recognizing any of those things as marriage. Deliberately temporoary, multiple partners, non-sexual etc… We just disagree about whether these things are good or bad.


Unifying idea of comprehensive unity best explains marriage. Common activity towards common ends with a unifying commitment.


Common Activity- In friendships there is unity in heart in mind, but only in marriage is it comprehensive. Your person includes your body and for that reason any total union would include bodily union (Sexual activity- “One Flesh”). United in one bodily union towards a single end. Only possible in sexual intercorse. They become actively coordinated towards the end of reproduction. They truly become “one flesh”


Common End/ Goods- Relationship of marriage is ordered towards the whole range of goods that comes about in domestic love. Its the act that makes new love and new participants in every aspect of the good. Marriage and the relationship itself is communal deepend or enriched by the bearing of new human beings and helping to bring them to maturity.


Comprehensive in the commitment that it requires because of that sense of completeness. Means permanence and exclusivity.


Contending vision is a much narrowed and watered down vesion of this marriage.

Why should the state be involved in that?


What harms would come from redefining marriage?


Ryan T. Anderson- Heritage Foundation, Witherspoon


Policy implications of this


What happened when marriage was redefined for the second time- Introduction of no-fault divorce. Before that marriage was understood as a permanent bond only severable by abuse adultery or abandonment. The law now taught that marriage need not have the expectation of permanence. Law taught culture and culture influenced belief and action.


Activists opposing no-fault divorce did not have same sex relationships on their radar or anti-gay animus at all. They were committed to fighting a false idea of marriage that was being promulgated by the state. All the ills that came from it such as divorce and cohabitation and etc… First generation of marriage activists were writing about this (Gallhager and Blankenhorn)


In 2003 the change to same sex marriage was the third big redefinition of marriage. Will making fathers ( or mothers) optional make marriage less valuable?


What social function does marriage play and what does it do for a political communtiy ( our society).


Marriage exists to bring man and woman together to raise children in unity. It brings people together that otherwise would have a tendency to fragment. It doesn’t happen just be happenstance. Cultural signals are needed and law can either strengthen or weaken those signals. No-fault divorce weakened those signals and so will ‘genderless marriage’


Marriage is based on idea that men and women are different and that both are needed for a child. Question is will a father stay with a child? Marriage is an institution that makes it much more likely that a husband will stay with his wife and child. Mothers and fathers bring different and complimentary gifts to  the life of the child.


Fathers are essential to ensure that kids are behaved. When father’s leave you see increased criminality and violence etc… 5x more likely to drop out in school 9x more likely to end up in prison etc…


Marriage is meant to bolster and support children. Under marriage social science has seen that children do best when raised by married biological mothers and fathers.

This can explain why state cares about marriage. If its all about love life, state should not be involved at all in marriage. It is involved because it is the last intrusive least invasive way for children to be raised in happy families.  Welfare state and child poverty rises when families fall apart. Marriage limits government and protects a flourishing community by doing a better job than the state could ever do. Does it without criminalizing anything.


A gay couple can live together, go to a liberal church and be married etc… The question now is whether the state will change the definition of marriage and use state power to redifine the institution. The state has an interest in the marital relationship because it is what can connect children to their mothers and fathers.


What would be the harms if we have gay marriage- Concern is not about the gay couples that will marry and have children, but about what vision of marriage will be articulated in society. Is marriage just about intense emotional union or something more. If the former it will make marriage more about the needs of the parents than the children. Nothing in society would hold up idea that children are best with a mother and a father. In fact, the opposite would be true with the state opposing a notion that one is better than the other. We can see that in examples of religious liberty concerns. Catholic Charities in MA  and IL not allowed to adopt children because they advocate this notion.


Deeper concern that once you get rid of one of the pillars of marriage, the others become arbitrary. See push for plural, open and other marriages. Pledge of permanence is also at risk…Some want to make marriage like a renewable contract/lease. These things will logically follow once you see marriage as just a personal relationship. Regardless of personal views, it will be a disaster for the public policy that we want society to support. Those other relationships do not have the same externalities that necessitate state support. They actually make fragmented families more likely. Purpose of supporting monogamous families is undercut by a move to viewing these things as arbitrary. If its all a matter of lifestyle choice, that will have dire consequences. We do not want the law to teach that this vision ushered by the sexual revolution is the one that is right.

Robert P. George- From Harvard


No University in the country is more supportive than BYU. There is a great admiration for the LDS church and the willingness of members to stand up for the institution of marriage despite the slings and arrows that come. He is grateful that we are willing to bear the cost of discipleship. By our fruits we have shown ourselves to be disciples of Jesus Christ.


Marriage is an interesting and great idea. It is a profound human good. One so profound that one would think it thought up by a divine being. Yet, it is pre-political and even before the church.


If human beings did not reproduce sexually…Would anyone have thought up the idea of marriage. Probably not. If human babies were born fully developed like Sharks would marriage exist? Probably not.


(Aside about how nice it is to see a baby in the audience and how rare that would be at Princeton)


This says a lot about what marriage is. It has a lot to do with procreation and childbearing. Bringing man and woman together as husband and wife and conferring upon children born the profound blessing of being reared as part of a family. Marriage is the institution that unites man and women to be husband and wife and mother and father. They each make distinct contributions to the enterprise of childbearing. It is terribly important to realize that it would be an error to suppose that this is a debate about who is allowed to participate in the institution. This is the error that fills the marriage debate. If the definition proposed by same-sex marriage proponents is true, same-sex marriage is the logical outcome. We all agree on equal dignity and equality. The question is what is marriage and we will not get close to resolving this issue unless we answer that question. Here is where there is on offer to our generation and this nation two options:


The conjugal understanding v. The Revisionist/ Romantic Companionship Model.


On the first view (Conjugal view) marriage is distinct and set apart from other forms of friendship because it is the form naturally oriented towards having and rearing children. It’s also the union that would naturally be fulfilled by child rearing. This is not to suggest that marriage is only for children Those on the other side miscategorize that. Marriage is an intrinsic valuable human good for husband and wife to be in that type of union. You can have those benefits even if the woman is beyond child bearing age. That’s why historically the state has recognized the marriages of infertile people even if that was known and known to be permanent. On the other hand, non-consumation was regarded as an impediment for nullification of the marriage. That is the conjugal understanding. There is a link to procreation but its not a means to an extrinsic end alone. It makes sense of all features of marriage.


We have an understanding for instance, that adultery is a sexual affair and the sexual nature of marriage can best be understood by the Conjugal marriage view.


Polyamory or the notion of people being married to each other is the antithesis of the conjugal bond. This can not be a true marriage by the conjugal understanding.


The revisionist view treats marriage as purely a partnership or companionship. Children are incidental. That view can not make sense of the features of marriage.


Revisionist understanding simply can make no sense at all of the factors of marriage. Things like monogamy and child rearing is of no objective significant but just a preference.


Our clear headed and candid friends on the other side make the same point. They are saying exactly the same thing. People like Dan Savage and many academics have clearly expressed this viewpoint.


This isn’t a slippery slope argument but it’s just an argument about the principels that define marriage.


Questions- Unwillingness of conservatives to stand up for the issue. What about people like Blankenhorn


Answer- Get some backbone and stand up for what you believe. People on the left are putting careers on the line and so they may be scared to speak out. Talking about basic institution of society upon which the wellfare of children, communities and society rests. Symptom and not a cause. Sexual anarchy and out of wed-lock children has led to a lot of problems for society. The origins are in family breakdown. We’ve known that since the 1960s. Back then the rate was under 5% in the general population. You see all the ills that were predicted. If you want to fight poverty…change the marriage culture. Rebuilding the family is essential. People began to see that until the same sex marriage movement arose.


Prevailing will not win all fights, but it will allow us to continue to fight to rebuild the marriage culture. Once we take that step of recognizing same sex marriage there is simply no going back.


At the height of the sexual revolution people did not want to speak the truth about these consequences. People lost their backbones and didn’t stand up. The result was an abandonment of the poor and vulnerable.


Questions-  Maggie Gallhager explains that marraige is a private promise made in public. Gives societal cues. Will same sex marriage bring more confusion-?


Answer: Yes, it would further enshrine in our law the vision of marriage as just between consensual adults and not about the children.


Would call into question all those traditional norms.


There are good well intentioned people that believe it will have the effect of reducing promiscuity among gay cultures.

There’s a word you will hear a lot more of as marriage changes- Heteronormativity. People will argue that those norms are being imposed on people unjustly


Question- Won’t same sex marriage invigorate marriage culture.


Changing labels will not lead to excitement about marriage at all.


Look at what is writing in Beyond Marriage- They see it as clearly as we do.


Question- In this day of relativism how can one take a moral stance


Answer-That’s a question for the other side which uses moral terminology to criticze those that support marriage.


Question- What impact would this have on religious institutions?


Answer- Church would be left to perform marriages as they see it, but as Obama Admin sees religious liberty that’s about as far as it would extend. It would not extend to businesses such as the florists or photographers sued etc… Business owners would not be protected and would see law coming down against them. Religious liberty protections should protect more than just the freedom to worship, but that’s not the case. Look at what’s happening with contraception. There’s a notion that you have to leave your religion at home.


In canada we have seen ministers called before human rights commissions simply for speaking from Leviticus. That isn’t expected here because of our more robust notions of speech, but once people are by law discriminating there are a lot of ways to deal with them. The speech isn’t shut down, but there are so many other civic disabilities imposed on them (licensing, accreditation, government contracting)


Bob Jones Case relating to racism is a harbinger of that. Religious traditions would likewise be treated. Also, think about the disabilities that would be imposed in culture. If someone finds out you are opposed to same-sex marriage will it be treated the same as someone who has racist views today. Consequences are just beginning and they will be profound. We can’t give up on marriage and retreat to the defense of religious liberty. It won’t work.


Question- What Valid argument does the opposition have?


Answer- Conjugal view is not discrimination and its not bigotry, however the conjugal definition was essential abolished 50 years ago. As such, now that you have embodied in law alternatives you’ve got to be consistent and support same sex marriage. You’ve already yielded in the matter of principle so you have to go all the way, but gay marriage wasn’t even on the radar at the time. If we can prevent marriage from being redefined out of existence we can be at the forefront of bringing back the traditional understanding of marriage.


Question- In pop culture now there are so many references to gay marriage. Is there a eugenic alterior motive to the sudden influx of gay marriage in the culture?


Answer- No..Sanger was a eugenicist and was involved in the development of modern sexual norms, but I do not attribute bad will to anyone on the other side.  They think the way they think because we have to a significant extent already permited the conjugal definition to erode.


Question- What can be done? Is it too little too late?  What will be the impact on religious liberties?


Answer: There’s a ‘post-christian myth’ that replaces the notion of a divine judge and providence. It’s the notion of history as a person and a judge. This is the basis for the notion that you don’t want to be on the wrong side of history. This notion is that a future consensus makes something right. It suggests we don’t have freedom in society to chose one path or another. Future is not fixed it is chosen. You can chose based on information. It’s not lost and it’s not a done deal. It’s no more certain than marxism was to succeed or that abortion wcould never be stopped. What will make it certain is believing that it is certain. Then, the only people that can influence others will be silenced.


The view of history being fixed is absurd. History is open and it is up to us. The key thing to convey to us is that we should not be intimidated or bullied into silence. You may suffer consequences, but you are ‘saints’ Saints should be willing to pay the cost of discipleship. Only way its inevitable is if we permit ourselves to be bullied into silence


Question- What can be done in the grassroots


Make the argument. It’s not that it has been made and rejected, but it hasn’t really been heard. There are thousands of campuses and most students have not heard the philosophical sociological or theological argument about marriage. We have to get out and make the argument. Groups are springing up in college campuses to equip student leaders to make an argument for a humane view of sexuality and norms of family. They are not popular but are highly respect when lived in practice.  


The other side has to speak in terms of inevitability because its not really so. So many states would not side with same sex marriage in our lifetime. That’s why they went to the court. But there aren’t five votes for that right now. The rulings may not be in our favor, but we are not going to get a roe v. wade type ruling on marriage. That means the conversation will go on for years. That means each of us will have an opportunity to speak out for the truth. We can speak out and write op-eds and advocate for the truth. It’s what Christ came to do.


It’s all up to us, but we don’t have to have a 5 or 50 year manifeto. The key is fidelity and fidelity to our vocations. The first thing we have to do is live up to the vision we are holding up to society. Stand up for the cause, pray, blog, speak to those you know. The example is the abortion movement which sprung up with legal arguments, crisis centers, intellectual movements to make sure the arguments got made. Only way that rich variety of response happens is when people discern their vocation and then do it.


BE BOLD. Don’t be reckless but be bold. Don’t go into the debate not knowing what you are talking about, but act and not be intimidated once you have done your homework and understand what is at stake. You don’t need to achieve the level of mastery that the speakers have in order to be a contributing person to the debate. Someone has to stand up and point out the errors and make the case. You don’t have to have a whole course to do so.


Even as you are speaking out, continue to educate yourself and turn to the best sources. You will sharpen your wits, abilities and arguments.


No one in this room does not have a contribution to make to this cause. It’s our duty to make that contribution. If it weren’t something as important as the institution on marriage we could let it slide. But marriage is so fundamental and upon it everything else depends. Its about rebuilding a vibrant healthy marriage culture.


6 thoughts on “What is Marriage? Same-Sex Marriage Panel at BYU 4-10-13

  1. Being from California, I am a great fan of the book, “What is Marriage” and in particular the author, Ryan T. Andersen — jealous you were able to attend this meeting.

    The research presented by these authors, have opened up an entirely new, and intelligent way to discuss marriage, which gives those who value the institution a credible way to dialogue with those who refuse to acknowledge the irresponsible desire to deconstruct and un-define natural marriage without regard to the biology and complimentary nature of the male/female relationship inherent in their undeniable biology; which naturally produces offspring creating the basic unit of society — the family — a legitimate reason to stand up and say, not so fast — not on my watch.

    Good for you!

  2. Pingback: Notes from Yesterday’s Wheatley Institution Panel

    • I am sorry you feel that way, but it’s not at all true. I love all people regardless of their orientation. Which benefits society should offer to couples is a complex question that should not be reduced to pro or anti-gay stereotypes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s