George’s case for marriage: permanence, monogamy, fidelity

“Marriage is an all-encompassing sharing of life,” said Dr. Robert George, Princeton and Harvard grad, speaking at today’s DOXOLOGY conference in Mundelein, Ill. “Like other bonds—friendship, relationships between siblings, parents and children—marriage involves a union of hearts and minds. But in the case of marriage, it’s all-encompassingness refers to its distinctive feature, that is, in addition to being a union of hearts and minds, it’s a bodily union, where the bodily union is made possible and intelligible by the sexual reproductive complimentary-ness of man and woman.”

“Hence, as an all-encompassing union, it’s ordered to the all-encompassing goods of creation and human life and calls for an all-encompassing commitment, one that is pledged to permanence and to sexuality fidelity, that which strengthens marriages when respected. Marriage unites husband and wife holistically.”

But if, as the culture would seek to define it, marriage is  not a holistic union, but is instead only about sexual relations or only about emotions, why then “should marriage be limited to only two people? There would be no ground for understanding marriage as a sexual partnership at all if the only thing that sets it apart is an emotional union. There would be no basis for understanding marriage as that which shapes family life.”

“Everyone agrees that marriage is a relationship in which persons are fully united,” George said. “But what are persons and is it possible for two or more to fully unite?” Some would say, “The person is the conscious and desiring aspect of the human being, the mental or emotional part of the body. But then the body is regarded, if only implicitly, as a sub-personal reality, a vessel for the emotions.”


However, he explained, a true “Organic bodily union is personal union, and that includes and is founded on bodily union. It’s not just bodily union or just emotional union. What is unique about marriage is that it is a comprehensive sharing of life. . .  . It is a marriage of hearts and minds but of bodies as well. This is made uniquely possible by sexual complimentarity. It makes this one-flesh union the foundation of a relationship . . . where two people bind themselves to each other in pledges of permanence, monogamy and fidelity.”

For some, “Marriage is marked by plasticity and malleability of the construct it is supposed to replace. Marriage is now completely unnecessary even for childbearing.  . .  . [but] once we actually look at the consequences of out-of-wedlock childbearing, it’s not so pretty. Who are the victims? The kids.” Some, George notes, now support “minimal marriage in which individuals can have legal relationships with more than one person, themselves determining the sex and number of parties. Marriage is now completely plastic,” and entrenched in the belief that “the law should facilitate whatever arrangements works best for the person.” This, he said, is evidenced in a recent movement by “More than 300 LGBT scholars calling for sexual relationships to be legally recognized with more than two partners.”


This rejection of sexual exclusivity is supported by self-defined conservative thinker Andrew Sullivan who “extols ‘the spirituality of anonymous sex,’ where two people don’t even bother to reveal their names.” Other advocates of same-sex marriage promote the erosion of traditional marriage. George quoted one such advocate who noted that same-sex couples ought to “Demand the right to marry, not as the right to adhere to society’s moral codes but to debunk the myth and radically redefine the institute of marriage completely . . .  transforming the notion of family entirely.”


But “Even if monogamy is a key point in a sound understanding of marriage, large numbers of people will fail to grasp the value of monogamy and practice it unless they are supported by a culture . . . who also supports monogamous marriage,” George explained. “Marriage is the kind of good that can be chosen and meaningfully participated in only by those who have a basic understanding of it, [who understand that] the idea that marriage is not just a romantic relationships for as long as it lasts.”

“People’s ability to understand what marriage is, so that they can enter into actual marriages, depends crucially on things that they cannot make or remake: institutions and cultural understandings, that both transcend the choices of specific individuals and are constituted by the decisions of the group, the vast numbers of individuals,” he said.

“We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be backed into a corner, to be a peripheral case,” George warned.  “Why is the phrase ‘marriage equality’ such a powerful tool?”


“To have the idea of same-sex marriage be inconceivable: is it that people on the other side didn’t think of the words ‘marriage equality’ until 1997? Had they pulled out those words in 1640 or 487, would it have worked then? No.” Instead, it works now “because of the cultural context. It’s because the idea of marriage has been so badly eroded, damaged and weakened by pathologies that have nothing to do with same-sex relationships. It begins with Sanger. And then it’s the teens and 20s, and then Kinsey’s phony, fraudulent science in the 40s, and Hefner’s soft porn, and then if you believed in traditional marriage, you have hang-ups and you’re twisted up and aren’t letting people be free,” explaining that the decline of the culture lead to marriage equality.

George called on Lutherans and all churches to be faithful and bold in response. “As weak as the churches are, they’re all we’ve got. In the churches, we need to restore the basic idea of marriage.”

“Are we willingly to say hard things?” he asked. “We have to tell them the truth. And it’s only when we restore that understand that we’ll break the talismanic quality of ‘marriage equality.'”

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