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Interview with Robert George: We Will Bring Scorn Upon Ourselves, Yet We Must Continue to Fight Same-Sex Marriage

Professor Robert George

public domain

Diane Montagna - published on 11/19/14

If it takes 100 years, it's worth the fight, says the Princeton professor.

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.

And we must begin where marriage has been eroded, by protecting our own religious liberty as institutions and as people, individuals of faith—to honor in our own businesses, in our own lives, our conscientious belief that marriage is the union of husband and wife. 

There are efforts to take away these religious liberties, in the area, for example, of accreditation of academic institutions or healthcare institutions, licensing where businesses or organizations require state licensure, in the area of government contracting where churches compete to get contracts from the government to provide social services to the poor, and of course in employment. 

So we need to work for laws that will protect religious liberty and the rights of conscience so that we can maintain in our own faiths, in our own lives, the integrity of our views and our convictions about marriage, which will provide the platform for us then to fight back in the effort to restore the marriage culture and to restore in law the basic understanding of marriage as a conjugal union oriented toward children and not concerned fundamentally with adult satisfactions.

How do you see this battle playing out?

The battle will come to us. There are already more efforts in law to erode religious liberty in Canada and the United States, Australia, and other places, such as England. An English Evangelical family that had successfully provided foster care for many children over many years was deprived of the opportunity to provide foster parenting for more children because, as Evangelical Christians, they believe in marriage as the union of husband and wife. And so as a result of this, the local authority that controlled foster care said they could not be foster parents, because what if a child were given to them who identified as “gay”? They could not be good parents for that child. They would cause harm to that child. So suddenly they lose the right that everybody else has, despite their successful career, their willingness to love and care for all children, no matter what problems they bring.

And that’s just one small example of what’s going on throughout the West. 

So whether we like it or not, the battle will come to us, and I believe we should not simply play defense and try to fight against bad laws but also play offense and try to enact good laws that will protect the religious liberty not simply of Catholics, but of Protestants, Latter Day Saints, Eastern Orthodox, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Bahá’ís, Buddhists, people of Daoist [faith], people of every faith.

The beautiful thing about this colloquium is that we had this broad spectrum of the world’s religions together singing from the same hymnal. The Daoist and the Mormon; the Eastern Orthodox and the Orthodox Jewish; the Muslim and the Catholic, all across the spectrum.

And, do we need to protect the rights of all of us. We are all in this together and we need to support each other across these historic lines of religious difference. 

What are your hopes for the Humanum Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage?

That it will give birth to an international, interfaith movement of cooperation in the cause of protecting religious liberty and rebuilding the culture of marriage. That is the goal. 

We all believe the same thing. Marriage requires sexual complementarity. It is the life-giving, love-sharing union of husband and wife. This is what we all believe, and yet it is under severe assault. The third world is in great danger. The developing world is in great danger because cultural imperialism will be used to force these nations to accept forms that are deeply contrary to their traditions and to the faith of their people. So we need to support them. We need to support each other. So I don’t want us to simply have three nice days and get to know each other and enjoy ourselves and hear good speeches and go away and do nothing. I want this to be only the beginning, a tiny seed planted that someday grows into a great oak tree.

What, in your opinion, is the significance of having had the Humanum Colloquium hosted at the Vatican?

I don’t think any religious institution could do what Pope Francis has done here. When the Pope approved this colloquium and agreed to launch us with his wonderful speech, he drew the world’s attention, and he brought people who might not go to places outside their own comfort zone. But the Pope is such an international figure. First, any Pope is such an international religious leader, and this particular Pope is so beloved by people of all faiths that I think he alone at this historical moment could have brought people of so many different faiths together, where they felt comfortable, they felt safe, they felt secure in expressing themselves, and where there’s a feeling of solidarity, where they’re not made to feel when they’re here like outsiders. The Buddhist monks who were here, the Mormons who were here, the Jain and Sikh representatives who were here, they did not feel like guests. They felt like members of a family that has come together to work in a great cause.

Diane Montagna is the Rome correspondent for Aleteia.

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