It is one thing, and isn’t another—and that’s not mere subjective opinion. Or so we read in What is Marriage , a new and momentous paper authored by First Things board member Robert P. George, along with former First Things assistant editor Ryan Anderson and Rhodes Scholar Sherif Girgis. Found in the upcoming issue of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy , the paper treats the trickiest arguments in the same-sex marriage debate the with the precision and rigor for which these three scholars are known. Questions, for example, of whether marriage is primarily a legally-sanctioned romantic partnership, or if its essential purpose resides in something else.

George, Anderson, and Girgis also address questions such as whether natural marriage discriminates against persons with same-sex attractions, how marriage differs from friendship, and whether its link to fertility and child-rearing is essential or merely incidental. They examine allegations of harm done by same-sex marriage, and explore the ways that re-imagining marriage will (and in some cases, already has) rework the state’s endorsement of the human family, as well as certain religious and moral freedoms. And then they take on the same-sex marriage arguments that most reflect the moral spirit of the age— “constructivist” arguments, as George, Anderson, and Girgis dub them. As for these kinds of claims, the authors write:

They deny that there is any reality to marriage independent of custom—any set of objective conditions that a relationship must meet to ground the moral privileges and obligations distinctive of that natural kind of union which we have called real marriage. For constructivists, rather, marriage is whatever social and legal conventions say that it is, there being no separate moral reality for these conventions to track. Hence it is impossible for the state’s policy to be wrong about marriage: different proposals are only more or less feasible or preferable.

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