Practical Implications of the Conjugal View of Marriage

Sherif Girgis, Robert George, and I have argued that there is a comprehensive good called marriage.[1] And we engage in it by a comprehensive act that unites a man and a woman as husband and wife and then leads towards the comprehensive good of marriage: the creation and the raising of new life. It calls for comprehensive norms: monogamy, exclusivity, and permanency. But why should we care? And more specifically, why should we care for public policy? Why should we care for the law? Why should each state care? Why are the states in the marriage business in the first place? What, in other words, are the practical implications, and why does marriage matter for public policy purposes? What will be the consequences now that the states have been forced to redefine marriage? To begin with, consider the fact that the state is not in the baptism or bar mitzvah business, even though those are also sacred events. So the state is not in the marriage business because of its sacred character, because it is a covenant or a sacrament. So why is the state in the marriage business? We argue that the government cares about marriage because of its secular social function. The state cares about marriage because it is the institution that brings together a man and woman as husband and wife, to then be mother and father of any children that they might produce. Marriage is based on an anthropological truth that men and women are distinct and complementary; it is based on the biological fact that reproduction requires both a man and a woman; and it is based on the social reality that children deserve both a mother and a father. Whenever a child is born, a mother is always close by. Normally, she will be in the same room. That is a fact of biology. The question for law and the question for culture is: will a father be close by, and if so, for how long? The reason that societies across the globe and throughout human history have recognized marriage as a union of a man and woman is pr
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