Have opponents of gay marriage finally found a good argument?by Alex Worsnip / January 30, 2013 / Leave a comment
What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defence
By Sherif Girgis, Ryan T Anderson and Robert P George (Encounter Books, £10.99)
Opponents of gay marriage have, for many years now, lacked intellectually credible arguments. What Is Marriage is an attempt to remedy this. Its authors—Sherif Girgis, Ryan T Anderson, and Princeton Professor Robert P George—are three academics with an impressive array of credentials. The book is measured and non-confrontational, written in a tone somewhere between legal scholarship and philosophy. Stylistically, at least, it is the antithesis of the ravings of the religious right. Although the authors are conservative Christians, they purport to make a secular case against gay marriage.
Unsurprisingly, the anti-gay marriage movement has embraced this work as a godsend, characterising it as the long-awaited heavyweight, intellectually formidable defence of their view. The authors have presented their argument in serious forums such as the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy and the Wall Street Journal. Even some people on the other side of the debate have taken the book seriously, with Kenji Yoshino of NYU law school calling it “the best argument against gay marriage.” Behind its intellectual veneer, though, the arguments of What Is Marriage are no less flimsy than those of other anti-gay marriage crusaders.
The central question in the gay marriage debate, the authors tell us, is not about homosexuality, but rather about marriage. As such, the battle over gay marriage is, in the view of the authors, a battle to save marriage. Once we understand what marriage—the real thing—is, we will see that it is inherent in its very nature that there cannot be a marriage between two people of the same sex.
It’s an audacious line of reasoning. In response to demands for legal rights for gay people, it says something like: “I’m sorry—it’s nothing against you, it’s just that the demand you’ve made doesn’t make sense.” Asking for a gay marriage is, for these authors, rather like asking for a liquid car, or for a manicure for your knees—a demand for something conceptually impossible. As such, the rights-demand doesn’t even have to be engaged. You can’t engage something that doesn’t make conceptual sense.