How can the erosion of the marriage culture best be resisted? For Professor Robert George, the battle to uphold matrimony will come to us, but it must begin where marriage has been eroded and by protecting religious liberty. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, where he lectures on constitutional interpretation, civil liberties and philosophy of law, discussed this with Aleteia at a recent Vatican-hosted international and interreligious conference on the complementarity of man and woman, held November 17-19 in the Vatican’s New Synod Hall.
Professor George, would you summarize for us the remarks you delivered at the panel discussion this afternoon?
In my remarks this afternoon, I pointed out that the demand for the redefinition of marriage to accommodate same-sex partners is not the cause of the erosion of the marriage culture. Rather, it’s an effect, a symptom of the erosion of the marriage culture.
That erosion began in the 1960s. It is the fruit of the sexual revolution. It manifested itself in promiscuity, cohabitation, non-marital sexual cohabitation, the normalization of out of wedlock childbearing, the phenomenon of so-called "open marriages" and perhaps, above all, the rise of the divorce culture which was facilitated by changes in the law to permit, for example, a man unilaterally to divorce his wife, or a woman unilaterally to divorce her husband, the so-called “no- fault divorce”, which is actually better called unilateral divorce.
With the traditional understanding of marriage as a conjugal partnership eroded by those factors, the natural question became—marriage having been reduced to mere sexual romantic companionship for as long as the emotional tie lasts—why not persons of the same sex? But of course, by the same token, that logic would lead us to marriage between three or four or five or seven people of either sexes, together in a polyamorous sexual ensemble. Something new. Not polygamy which is well known to history and to culture, but the idea that three or five people together in a sexual relationship could make a marriage, or something that should be recognized as a marriage.
Is this on the horizon?
Newsweek Magazine stated that there are already 500,000 polyamorous households in the United States. So, for the rest of the world we don’t know. Certainly it’s a phenomenon in Canada, as well as in other places.
[Returning to my remarks], I then went on to make the point that, given that the roots of the problem are not in demand for same-sex marriage, why then did the Pope, when he was Cardinal Bergoglio in Argentina, in fighting against same-sex marriage, write to the monasteries and the convents asking them to pray, and saying that same-sex marriage was from the devil. Why did he say that? Why is it something we need to worry about? Why is it something so bad?
For this reason: We need to fight to rebuild the marriage culture, but we will not be able to rebuild the marriage culture if we lock into law the fundamental premises of the sexual revolution, the thing that caused the marriage crisis. That is, to replace the concept in law of a marriage as a conjugal union you need a husband and wife ordered to procreation and the rearing of children. If we reduce it to sexual romantic companionship or domestic partnership and make that official in the law, that means there’s no going back. There’s no reforming in law and culture the institution of marriage, no reversing the divorce plague, no fighting back against cohabitation and all of these pathologies that have brought such devastation to men, to women, especially to children, and above all to the poor.
And so I said, that’s why we have to fight. We have to resolve that we will stand for marriage and fight for however long it takes—it might be 20 years, it might be 50 years, it might be 100 years—to rebuild the marriage culture and to restore in law, where it has been displaced, a sound understanding of marriage.
As a result of this, we will draw ridicule. We will bring scorn upon ourselves, because powerful people in institutions reject our understanding of marriage. They reject what everyone understood marriage to be until yesterday. And they claim that anyone who disagrees with them is a bigot, or a hater, or is motivated by irrational animus, or archaic religious beliefs. Yet we must suffer that, be willing to suffer that opprobrium, perhaps discrimination, perhaps the loss of friends, perhaps even conflict within the family, for the sake of rebuilding marriage, because so much for people depends on it, and especially for the poor.