Beyond the definition of marriage, a lot will hinge on religious liberty, even in states that haven’t redefined marriage itself but have sexual orientation and gender identity laws on the books. We’ve seen this in New Mexico and Colorado. Both of those states define marriage as the union of a man and a woman; each of those states has a sexual orientation anti-discrimination statute. In New Mexico there is a photographer and in Colorado a baker who are both evangelicals who don’t want to use their services to celebrate same-sex weddings. In each case they lost court challenges. I think that’s going to be an area of focus for the coming years — what sort of religious liberty protections will exist and what sort of coercive measures the government will take for private citizens who don’t want to be celebrating same-sex relationships. Essentially, even in states that haven’t redefined marriage, even where they say, “Look, my personal belief about marriage is the same thing as in state law,” they’re still running into trouble.
What is our society missing in this debate, in your view?
I think too often the way this is played out is that it’s a discussion of naked claims for equality. One side will say, “We’re in favor of marriage equality,” but they will never tell us what they think marriage is. And everyone in this debate is for marriage equality — we all want the law to treat all marriages the same way. But the question is, “What sorts of relationships constitute marriage?” And only if can you answer that question can you then determine whether or not marriage policy is treating marriages equally or not. Even the people who want to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, they will still have a marriage policy that will draw a line between what sort of relationship is a marriage and what sort of relationship isn’t a marriage. But they never tell us which lines should be drawn and why. So what will happen for those in favor of marriage equality when a same-sex “throuple” (a three-person couple) goes to a court to sue for their marriage equality right? Why is monogamy one of the lines that we should follow? What basis does it have? That’s something they haven’t told us about.
In the book that Sherif [Girgis], Robby [George] and I did, we tried to flesh out what’s actually lying behind the marriage equality — the revisionists’ account of marriage. We say, “All right, even though they won’t tell us what’s really kind of driving the relationship, we’ve read enough of their writings that we can figure out that from their view that marriage is an intense emotion. And so, what sets it apart from other sorts of relationships is that it’s the most intense or it’s the most important, it’s an intense emotional union. If that’s the case, there’s really no reason in principle why that relationship should only be between two people. Your most important, your most emotionally intense relationship could be between three people. There’s no reason why that relationship would have to be permanent, because emotions come and go. There’s no reason why it has to be sexually exclusive, because there are emotional unions that are enhanced by having sexual relationships outside of that relationship.
In other words, redefining marriage to abandon male–female sexual complementarity would make other essential characteristics — such as monogamy, exclusivity, and permanency — arbitrary, as leading LGBT scholars and activists admit. And what we find in the literature is that we now have people advocating for eliminating or weakening all three of those traditional requirements. You’ll see people who advocate temporary marriage licenses: these are called “wed-leases,” as opposed to the wedlock; throuples, a three-person couple who have other types of polygamous or polyamorous relationships; and “monogamish” relationships, which are sexually open relationships, rather than sexually exclusive ones. They’re still between two people, but they’re “monogamish” rather than monogamous; provided there’s no deceit or coercion, it would be okay to have a sexual relationship outside of that.