By Rebecca Brimley Smith
What makes a marriage? For millennia, most societies have never even bothered asking this question, having taken for granted the idea that marriage is a union of lives involving a man and a woman. Yet, the cultural shifts taking place in society produce the occasion honestly to ask, “What makes a marriage?” On March 23, 2016, Dr. Robert P. George delivered a lecture entitled, “What Follows for the Family—Logically & Psychologically—From Re-defining Marriage,” in which he described the changing social and political climate that has led to the re-defining of marriage in the United States. Dr. George also provided explorations of the “revisionist” and “traditional” definitions of marriage and prompted listeners to consider the implications of embracing or abandoning each concept of marriage. Although the Supreme Court passed legislation to recognize both opposite-sex and same-sex unions as marriages, the case is not closed—we who shape the social and political culture of the U.S. are in a position of power to determine whether the legislation will be sustained and expanded or not; to determine whether the “revisionist” definition of marriage, with all that logically follows, or the “traditional” definition of marriage will stand.
Just last year, same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States, satisfying the population in the U.S. who, according to Dr. George, view the opportunity to marry a person of the same gender as a matter of basic civil rights. Dr. George maintained that this population tends to uphold the “revisionist” definition of marriage, represented by the slogan, “love makes a family.” Dr. George explained that according to this ideology, marriage is “a form of committed sexual romantic companionship or domestic partnership.” Indeed, observing the discourse regarding same-sex couple rights reveals that those who support same-sex marriage believe that any person should be free to marry the person he or she loves, regardless of gender. Dr. George further explained that now that much of the community believes gender to be irrelevant in marriage, many are beginning to claim that number is also irrelevant. Thus, many people are now petitioning the government to recognize partnerships of three or more people of any gender as legal marriages. Logically, Dr. George explained, such polyamorous relationships deserve legal recognition as marriages under the banner that marriage is a “committed sexual romantic companionship or domestic partnership.”
Dr. George’s reasoning is sound. As long as the U.S. Supreme Court maintains allegiance to the “revisionist” view of marriage, the Supreme Court will surely respond in favor of those who petition for legal recognition of polyamorous partnerships. Furthermore, Dr. George forecasted that if the Supreme Court continues to rule by the “revisionist” idea of marriage, not long down the road the Supreme Court will be asked to permit incestuous marriages among consenting adults and will be unable to recognize an incestuous marriage as anything other than a “committed sexual romantic companionship or domestic partnership.” The Supreme Court will therefore be required by precedence and consistency to grant legal marital status to people in such incestuous relationships. The idea that the U.S. Supreme Court might legalize incestuous marriages may seem absurd and shocking to some, but against the backdrop of the vast social revolution about morality and personal choice, such an occurrence does not seem so out of place. In fact, Dr. George recounted that in Germany, several federal organizations petitioned for legalization of incest on the grounds that consideration for the free choices of consenting adults trumps consideration for the protection and strengthening of healthy families. This argument is not unfamiliar in the U.S. where telephone surveyors question, “Are you pro-life or pro-choice?” Indeed, for a large portion of American society, the defense of individual choice is far more important than the defense of stable, healthy families. When the question of legalizing incest is framed in this social context, the prediction that incestuous marriage will be legalized no longer seems shocking. Comfortingly, though, the social views in the U.S. regarding incest remain unfavorable at present and so may keep the proposition at bay. However, the continuing deterioration of social norms and values may very well lead to a change in the social attitude toward incest.
Because the U.S. Supreme Court is currently bound by precedence to make decisions based on the “revisionist” view of marriage, the trajectory of marriage in the U.S. is undoubtedly headed toward accepting polyamorous relationships and potentially others. However, this trajectory is neither predestined nor written in stone. According to Dr. George, the American people have the power to determine whether or not the “revisionist” definition of marriage is upheld or discarded in favor of the “traditional” view of marriage.
Traditionally, what makes a marriage? How is a traditional marriage distinct from other caring friendships? Most people agree that marriage (whether opposite-sex or same-sex) involves the sharing and uniting of lives. However, Dr. George explained that traditional marriage is distinct in this regard because it involves the “comprehensive sharing of life” grounded on the sharing and uniting of life biologically. Historically, Dr. George described, marriage has been founded upon reproductive complementarity and has been consummated by a sexual relationship with the potential to create a child, whether or not conception actually occurs. According to Dr. George, traditional marriage is therefore fundamentally concerned with and naturally fulfilled by bearing and rearing children. Dr. George additionally pointed to the biological fact that humans are born with only half of a reproductive system because we were intended to partner with one possessing the other half of the system. Thus, traditionally, marriage stands only when the sharing of life is founded upon the biological complementarity of a man and a woman.
As long as present social and political circumstances remain unchanged in the U.S., the traditional view of marriage will become less and less “traditional.” However, the population of the U.S. is responsible for this staggering change in social views on marriage, and the population of the U.S. has not lost the power to enact such dramatic change. Therefore, if the people of the United States determine to discard the “revisionist” view of marriage and to stand for traditional marriage, the ruling of the Supreme Court will reverse in favor of marriage between a man and a woman.
George, Robert P. What Follows for the Family—Logically & Psychologically—from Re-defining Marriage. 23 March 2016. <http://wheatley.byu.edu/library/view.cfm?id=170>