Visiting academics defend man/woman marriage


Three scholars argued that marriage is incompatible with same-sex relationships and discussed why the state has an interest in marriage in a lecture and Q&A session at BYU on April 10.

Hundreds of people gathered in the Harold B. Lee Library Auditorium to hear the lecture. The Q&A session took place earlier in the Maeser Building. Robert P. George, a Princeton University professor and notable conservative thinker, opened with a comment about the need to understand what marriage is.

“In our society the loss (and) deep erosion of a sound understanding of marriage explains why so many of our peers … are failing to live out marriage,” George said. “They’re failing to make marriage work for them.”

George linked the shortcomings of traditional marriage to the sexual revolution that began in the late 1960s.

“Why did the marriage culture collapse — before there was any question of gay anything?” George asked. “This is the expected, predictable fruit of the sexual revolution,”

Sherif Girgis, a Rhodes Scholar, speaking at Wednesday's lecture in the Harold B. Lee Library Auditorium.
“Both sides (of the marriage debate) are really after the question of what kind of marriage principles do we want society to teach?” Sherif Girgis said. (photo by Sarah Strobel Hill)

Coauthor Sherif Girgis elaborated on George’s statement.

“The whole premise of the sexual revolution is the idea that sex and sexual relationships are only as valuable as the emotional satisfaction involved,” Girgis said. He explained how that idea naturally leads to no-fault divorce, non-permanent marriage contracts and other social developments that naturally undermine marriage.

Girgis and his coauthors reject the idea that marriage is only related to emotional satisfaction or that it is simply whatever society says it is. They offer their own definition in their paper that was published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy:

“(Marriages are) inherently valuable relationships that first, organically extend two people’s union along the bodily dimension of their being; second, bear an intrinsic orientation to child‐bearing and rearing; and third, require a permanent and exclusive commitment,” they wrote.

BYU student Nina Linchenko, a history major from southern Utah, hoped the event would help bridge her faith and reason.

“I support the views of the Church, but logically I probably lean the other way,” Linchenko said. “My heart believes what the Church teaches, and I want my mind to believe as well.”

Ryan Anderson, a Heritage Fellow and the third coauthor, focused his remarks at the session on why the government should care about marriage. He focused on “fragmented families and fatherless children” and large government programs aimed to relieve the difficulty that can be associated with such situations.

“What is the state’s interest in marriage?” Anderson asked. “Marital acts, nine months later, result in a new life.”

Robert P. George gave a forum address at BYU in 2008, and is a professor at Princeton University. Photo by Sara Strobel Hill.
Robert P. George gave a forum address at BYU in 2008 and is a professor at Princeton University. (photo by Sara Strobel Hill)

George reentered the conversation with a response to the popular criticism that homosexual couples raise children just as effectively as heterosexual couples. He claimed that the studies that support that position are biased and intended to confirm that viewpoint.

“The work of Lauren Marks and, I believe, some researchers here (at BYU), is blowing that position out of the water,” George said.

Anderson made a similar point.

“(One of the big problems) is the media silencing of dissenters in the LGBT community,” Anderson said, claiming that gays who practice chastity, gay couples who don’t want to classify their relationship as marriage and people who have had problems being raised by a gay couple are denied media coverage.

He also advocated public policy fixes for hospital visitation rights, estate taxes and other concerns that he felt were not inextricably connected to marriage in the first place.

Anderson’s commitment to these principles was tested at a recent taping of CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight. Suze Orman, a popular financial adviser who has been in a homosexual relationship for more than 10 years, was the program’s featured guest.

Anderson, a Princeton graduate who is finishing his Ph.D. at Notre Dame, spoke from a seat in the audience and remained focused on the topic despite personal attacks from Morgan and Orman, who were seated on the stage. Morgan, for example, called Andersen’s position un-American.

“I also know you are very, very uneducated in how it really works,” Orman said.

Anderson, Girgis and George received a much warmer welcome at BYU’s event.

“Never do I feel as at home in an intellectual environment as I do when I’m here (at BYU),” George said, who also gave a forum address at BYU in 2008. “Yes, I’m a visiting professor at Harvard and I teach at Princeton, but (I feel like more of a) resident alien there.”

The three were brought in through BYU’s Wheatley Institution and the Fidelio Society, a club that examines “the mutually supporting roles of law and religion in upholding public morality,” according to Jonathon Pike, president of the club.

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