The Meaning of Marriage: family, state, market and morals is a collection of ten scholarly essays written by intellectuals from a variety of academic disciplines. Compiled by two Witherspoon Institute senior fellows, Robert P. George and Jean Bethke Elshtain, the book combines political, moral and philosophical principles in an attempt to find clarity on the controversial subject. Essayists range from moderate liberals to traditional conservatives but all agree on the premise that if the institution of marriage is altered as it is understood in our laws, there will be “profound and perhaps unintended consequences for the ways in which we think of ourselves as men and women, and for the kind of society we live in.”
Not only does the book cover historical aspects of marriage but it also addresses presently debated issues such as same-sex marriage. In their essay, “What About the Children?” Don Browning of the University of Chicago Divinity School, and Elizabeth Marguardt of the Institute for American Values, ask if our present society should allow homosexual individuals to have the privileges and responsibilities of civil marriage. The self-proclaimed religious and political liberals came to a surprising conclusion, “In contrast to many of our liberal colleagues… we have been led to believe same-sex marriage is unjust in many ways and that liberals should be cautious about endorsing it.” They argue that above all it is an infringement on the rights of children, who they feel are often neglected on this issue.
Offering a more historical approach, David Forte writes in his essay, “The Framers’ Idea of Marriage and Family” that the founders “ignored” the family in the Constitution, the Federalist Papers and other founding documents because they did not see it as an issue. It was not a social problem. Though the Founders were a mixed group of people, they were united by like principles. “What they saw in the family, as they saw in religion, was the necessary formation of character, the inculcation of virtue without which a free republic had not the slightest chance to survive, let alone prosper,” writes Forte.
Sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox says that in the midst of the same-sex marriage debate other cultural trends that have factored in the breakdown of marriage and family have been overlooked. His argument is two-fold: first, the introduction of the contraceptive pill and the legalization of abortion have separated sex and procreation from marriage, negatively affecting the institution of marriage and society at large. Secondly, the weakening of marriage has profoundly affected for the worse, the commonweal, society and the poor. He concludes his essay, “Marriage, the Poor and the Commonweal” with hope in intellectuals that are starting to acknowledge the importance of marriage for children and the demographic trends that suggest Americans are ready to chart a new path when it comes to family life.
Other essays titles include: “Sacrilege and Sacrament”, “Changing Dynamics of the Family in Recent European History”, “Soft Despotism and Same-Sex Marriage”, “Why Unilateral Divorce Has No Place in a Free Society”, and “The Family and the Laws”.
Elshtain acknowledges that although the essayists do believe that marriage’s difficulties and legalization of same-sex unions can be linked, they do not lay blame with advocates of same-sex marriage, “Well before the rise of the same-sex marriage debate, marriage as an institution was already under siege in American life… but the problems of marriage run much deeper than today’s headlines.”
The Witherspoon Institute hopes the book will provide much-needed intellectual discourse on the subject. “The topic has entered our public life at a time when the terms of our public discourse seem poorly equipped to engage in a serious and nuanced discussion concerning the nature and purpose of marriage… This book is one attempt to remedy the problem,” said Elshtain.
For more information on the book visit: www.spencepublishing.com.
Wendy Cook is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.