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Defense of the family conference: Defining Marriage

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Robert P. George

The raging battle today is whether same-sex couples should be recognized like heterosexual, married couples.

Yet, "in order to determine whether equality does require marriage to be redefined, we need to know, what is marriage?" asked Robert George, a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton, who answered his own question in a recently published article.

"Marriage is a comprehensive, multi-level union of a man and woman who, pledging fidelity, exclusivity and permanence form a commitment to join together not merely at the emotional level, but at the bodily, emotional, rational, volitional and spiritual levels of being in a union that is … fulfilled by having and rearing children together," George explained.

Those who want to redefine marriage call it a romantic-type friendship and emotional union between two people, often ignoring the idea of exclusive sexual relations.

With such a foundation, those same people have no real argument against why marriage shouldn't be a union of three, five or even seven people linked together in an emotional connection, George said.

These people also see sexual relations and the body simply as an instrument to find pleasure. While George disagrees with that view, he also shies away from those on the opposite side of the spectrum who believe marriage and sex is only for the bearing of children.

Marriage is intrinsically valuable and inherently fulfilling for men and women united as spouses in procreative type actions, George said.

Such unity of spouses is possible because humans unite organically to form a single reproductive unit. Unlike eating or walking or talking, which is done as an individual, procreative-type actions require both a man and a woman, even if the couple is infertile or unable to conceive.

"The end goal of sexual union is the good of marriage itself," he said. "On this understanding such a union is not a merely instrumental good, but rather an intrinsic good. The central and justifying point of sex is not then, pleasure, or even the sharing of pleasure per se, but the point of sex rather is marriage itself…a one-flesh comprehensive multi-level union."

But even by establishing such a definition doesn't mean the discussion is over, George cautioned.

"If we can win the marriage battle to the definition of marriage, that's only the beginning," George said. "We've got a huge boulder to roll back up the hill, (in) rebuilding the marriage culture."

— Sara Israelsen-Hartley