Marriage Doesn’t Mean What They Think It Means

What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. GeorgeEncounter Books, 2012; 168 pages, $15.99 In june, Justice Samuel Alito dissented from the majority opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court that held a law that retained the definition of marriage as a husband and wife for federal law purposes was unconstitutional. The majority concluded that such a law could be understood only as an expression of “animus” and so was per se invalid. Justice Alito, however, recognized that something more was at work. He noted that the case involved competing understandings of marriage. On the one hand was the understanding that “marriage is essen­tially the solemnizing of a comprehensive, exclusive, per­manent union that is intrinsically ordered to producing new life, even if it does not always do so.”  On the other, the assertion was that marriage is “the solemnization of mutual commitment—marked by strong emotional attachment and sexual at­traction—between two persons.” The majority had, without saying so, adopted the novel conception. It does so through a syllogism. (1) The Supreme Court has ruled that private sexual relations between persons of the same-sex cannot constitutionally be prohibited. (2) New York sought to give “dignity” to these relationships by redefining marriage to include them. (3) Congress’ decision not to grant benefits based on the legal status New York created can only be explained by animus. (4) Laws meant to promote animus are invalid. (5) The law retaining the old definition of marriage for federal law purposes was unconstitutional. This approach can only make sense once one has already adopted an understanding of marriage as the emotional association of persons. In describing the conception reflected in the law Congress enacted, Justice Alito pointed to an important new book, What is Marriage?, written by Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson and Robert George, each an important
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