WACO—Opposition to same-sex marriages does not rest exclusively on religious arguments against homosexual behavior, a speaker with a background in law and philosophy told a Baylor University crowd.
Marriage law shapes—not just reflects—how individuals view the institution of marriage, and the traditional view of marriage serves the public interest, Sherif Girgis explained in a lecture sponsored by Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion.
Girgis, co-author of What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, challenged his audience to broaden their perspective when developing their own views about marriage.
“I don’t think the only reason to care about the marriage debate is whether you think homosexual relationships are moral or not. … That shouldn’t be the only decisive factor,” he said.
Girgis, a Christian born in Cairo, Egypt, who grew up in Delaware, is a Rhodes Scholar working on both his doctorate in philosophy at Princeton University and his law degree from Yale Law School.
Marriage law teaches a vision of marriage and upholds an ideal for society, and that’s why it is important to be philosophically informed on the subject, he insisted.
Girgis defended traditional—or “conjugal”—marriage by questioning the definition of marriage proponents of same-sex marriage offer.
In what he called the “revisionists’” view, the only distinguishing characteristic of marriage in a homosexual relationship is the love the two individuals have for each other or the unity they sense when they are together, he said. That makes the permanence of the relationship contingent upon individual feelings, he asserted.
Proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage typically agree marriage should involve a permanent commitment, he acknowledged. However, the revisionists’ view fails to explain the idea of permanence, since the relationship is based on emotion, he said. At the very least, he insisted, that view makes the idea of permanence in a relationship arbitrary.
Arguments in favor of same-sex marriage also blur other lines, he added. Monogamy, sexual exclusivity and connection to family life also all become arbitrary, he said.
The call for same-sex marriage “gets marriage wrong because it can’t explain features of marriage that people on both sides of the debate recognize,” Girgis said. “Even on their own terms, before religion or social science or anything else, they get marriage wrong.”
A revisionist view of marriage lends itself to an arbitrary definition of marriage—a position some supporters of same-sex marriage concede, he asserted.
“This isn’t something that just conservatives have said,” he said. “Increasingly, some of the leaders of the movement to redefine marriage are admitting just as much.”
The conjugal view of marriage explains the norms of monogamy, exclusivity and permanence, while the revisionist’s view undermines them, Girgis insisted. The distinguishing factor in a conjugal view of marriage involves a comprehensive union. In this view, marriage becomes a man and a woman doing common activities together, with a common goal in mind, in the context of a commitment.
“Most forms of companionships are a union of hearts and minds,” he said. “Most people think that marriage is a union at all levels, of union, of heart, of mind and body. Most people think bodily union has something to do with sex.”
A one-flesh union
The conjugal view is consistent with the Christian understanding of marriage as one-flesh union, he said. Sexual intimacy that brings together the couple makes union comprehensive, he insisted.
“It can’t just be just that sex expresses or fosters emotional connection, because other activities do that,” he said. “In the conjugal act, you have a single bodily act.”
The comprehensive union leads to the possibility of reproduction, and the health of the next generation depends on the stability of the home, Girgis asserted.
Children benefit from a stabilizing view of marriage, he said.
“A strong marriage culture doesn’t happen by accident,” Girgis said. “That’s why every society has had to have social rules to reinforce the idea that men and women stay together and commit to each other as husband and wife to be father and mother to kids their union might produce.”
A form of social justice
So, adhering to the conjugal view of marriage serves a human purpose—to improve the health of the future generation, he asserted. It is a form of social justice and not just a Christian imposition, Girgis insisted.
“The more we uphold this vision of marriage in law, in culture, and in practice, the more we support the stabilizing norms of marriage that serve the public interest,” he said. “The more we replace that vision with the revisionists’ view, the more we undermine those very same norms.”