Let's Talk About What is Marriage? And Why That's Important...

In a recent conversation about the importance of preserving traditional marriage, it was pointed out that it may no longer be effective to debate whether or not marriage is a right -- seeing as it has now effectively been claimed, as such, by those who have pressed that it is, whether one agrees or not, unto the convincing of many in the judicial system -- sad evidence of the inability, in most, to easily distinguish an unalienable right(s).

On the positive side, if we really are at such a point, is that we're now finally able to move the marriage debate to the actual place those of us who desire to preserve natural marriage have always intended this discussion to be, and believe the very heart of the matter should be focused upon: the definition of marriage.

It is imperative that society understand why preserving marriage, between a man and woman, is so important, and that the issue of marriage has never been about about perceived "rights" or intended to be an anti-homosexual agenda.

As we move beyond these obstacles that have previously kept reasonable people from discussing what is most important about marriage, I sincerely hope that all those genuinely interested in this discussion are able to remove the politics and self-interest, and sincerely show concern for doing what is best for the children and families created as a result of the majority of marriages -- these forming the basic unit of strong communities -- a blessing to all of us.

The way to begin having this important conversation is by seriously asking and wanting to know the answer to the question: What is Marriage?

I'd like to share an outstanding book with you, that I  highly recommend you read, "What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense" by Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson and Robert P. George. (If you click on above link it will take you to Amazon.com where you can purchase the book -- and yes I am an affiliate.)

I've spent the last few weeks reading it, and although it can be a quick read, if need be, I've taken the time to consider the content, in context of the current secular arguments about marriage -- what marriage is, and the consequences of not preserving it.  I've found the information to be extremely important in helping my own conversations evolve into more pertinent understandings on many of the topics affecting marriage. And in particular, why the male and female conjugal relationship is a solid defense for maintaining the definition of marriage in society. Such an education can only increase each of our ability to help others better understand and come to value these important concepts as well. Needless to say, this is my favorite book and resource on the topic of marriage, and if I could I would literally memorize it!

In my enthusiasm to share these exciting marriage insights with each of you, I decided to reached out to one of the brilliant authors of "What is Marriage?", Ryan T. Anderson, who kindly responded and agreed to allow me to share excerpts from his own writings here on WBMW. So thank you, Ryan! But first, let me impress those of you who may not have ever heard of this book and/or know nothing of its background...

"What is Marriage?" was published in December of 2012, just in time for this very needed, and critical conversation. However it has quite a unique prior history, as it originated as a scholarly essay, first published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, becoming one of the years most widely read papers! Since then it has been revamped, expanded and updated for the current conversation.
Ryan T. Anderson is William E. Simon Fellow at the Heritage Foundation and the editor of Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute. A Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude graduate of Princeton University, he is a Ph.D. candidate in political philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He has worked as assistant editor of First Things and was a Journalism Fellow of the Phil­lips Foundation. His writings have appeared in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, First Things, the Weekly Standard, National Review, the New Atlantis, and the Claremont Review of Books.
Book description Amazon:

Rhodes Scholar Sherif Girgis, Heritage Foundation Fellow Ryan T. Anderson, and Princeton Professor Robert P. George offer a devastating critique of the idea that equality requires redefining marriage. They show why both sides must first answer the question of what marriage really is. They defend the principle that marriage, as a comprehensive union of mind and body ordered to family life, unites a man and a woman as husband and wife, and they document the social value of applying this principle in law.  

Most compellingly, they show that those who embrace same-sex civil marriage leave no firm ground--none--for not recognizing every relationship describable in polite English, including polyamorous sexual unions, and that enshrining their view would further erode the norms of marriage, and hence the common good.  
Finally, What Is Marriage? decisively answers common objections: that the historic view is rooted in bigotry, like laws forbidding interracial marriage; that it is callous to people's needs; that it can't show the harm of recognizing same-sex couplings, or the point of recognizing infertile ones; and that it treats a mere "social construct" as if it were natural, or an unreasoned religious view as if it were rational.

At the heart of my own passion for preserving natural marriage has always been to defend the natural birthright that children are born with, entitled by nature -- literally inherent from conception, evident at birth. So when I began reading "What is Marriage?" and these true principles were being articulated so brilliantly, in a manner that could be taken into the secular space beyond reproach, by those of reasonable nature -- I knew we had a voice worth duplicating many times over...

And so today, I'm honored to be sharing, with permission, excerpts from Ryan T. Anderson's article, Marriage: What It Is, Why It Matters, And The Consequences of Redefining It, posted on The Heritage Foundation


Marriage is based on the truth that men and women are complementary, the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the reality that children need a mother and a father. Redefining marriage does not simply expand the existing understanding of marriage; it rejects these truths. Marriage is society’s least restrictive means of ensuring the well-being of children. By encouraging the norms of marriage—monogamy, sexual exclusivity, and permanence—the state strengthens civil society and reduces its own role. The future of this country depends on the future of marriage. The future of marriage depends on citizens understanding what it is and why it matters and demanding that government policies support, not undermine, true marriage.

Marriage exists to bring a man and a woman together as husband and wife to be father and mother to any children their union produces. It is based on the anthropological truth that men and women are different and complementary, the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the social reality that children need both a mother and a father. Marriage predates government. It is the fundamental building block of all human civilization. Marriage has public purposes that transcend its private purposes. This is why 41 states, with good reason, affirm that marriage is between a man and a woman. 
Government recognizes marriage because it is an institution that benefits society in a way that no other relationship does. Marriage is society’s least restrictive means of ensuring the well-being of children. State recognition of marriage protects children by encouraging men and women to commit to each other and take responsibility for their children. While respecting everyone’s liberty, government rightly recognizes, protects, and promotes marriage as the ideal institution for childbearing and childrearing.

What Is Marriage?

At its most basic level, marriage is about attaching a man and a woman to each other as husband and wife to be father and mother to any children their sexual union produces... 
Marriage is a uniquely comprehensive union. It involves a union of hearts and minds, but also—and distinctively—a bodily union made possible by sexual complementarity. As the act by which a husband and wife make marital love also makes new life, so marriage itself is inherently extended and enriched by family life and calls for all-encompassing commitment that is permanent and exclusive. In short, marriage unites a man and a woman holistically—emotionally and bodily, in acts of conjugal love and in the children such love brings forth—for the whole of life.[4] 
Just as the complementarity of a man and a woman is important for the type of union they can form, so too is it important for how they raise children. There is no such thing as “parenting.” There is mothering, and there is fathering, and children do best with both. 
Marriage is the fundamental building block of all human civilization. The government does not create marriage. Marriage is a natural institution that predates government. Society as a whole, not merely any given set of spouses, benefits from marriage. This is because marriage helps to channel procreative love into a stable institution that provides for the orderly bearing and rearing of the next generation.
Why Marriage Matters for Policy


Virtually every political community has regulated male–female sexual relationships. This is not because government cares about romance as such. Government recognizes male–female sexual relationships because these alone produce new human beings. For highly dependent infants, there is no path to physical, moral, and cultural maturity—no path to personal responsibility—without a long and delicate process of ongoing care and supervision to which mothers and fathers bring unique gifts. Unless children mature, they never will become healthy, upright, productive members of society. Marriage exists to make men and women responsible to each other and to any children that they might have.
The Consequences of Redefining Marriage


Redefining marriage would further disconnect childbearing from marriage. That would hurt children, especially the most vulnerable. It would deny as a matter of policy the ideal that children need a mother and a father. Traditional marriage laws reinforce the idea that a married mother and father is the most appropriate environment for rearing children, as the best available social science suggests. 
Recognizing same-sex relationships as marriages would legally abolish that ideal. It would deny the significance of both mothering and fathering to children: that boys and girls tend to benefit from fathers and mothers in different ways. 
Redefining marriage does not simply expand the existing understanding of marriage. It rejects the truth that marriage is based on the complementarity of man and woman, the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the social reality that children need a mother and a father. 
Redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships is not ultimately about expanding the pool of people who are eligible to marry. Redefining marriage is about cementing a new idea of marriage in the law—an idea whose baleful effects conservatives have fought for years.
Redefining marriage marginalizes those with traditional views and leads to the erosion of religious liberty. The law and culture will seek to eradicate such views through economic, social, and legal pressure. If marriage is redefined, believing what virtually every human society once believed about marriage—a union of a man and woman ordered to procreation and family life—would be seen increasingly as a malicious prejudice to be driven to the margins of culture.

The Future of Marriage


The future of this country depends on the future of marriage, and the future of marriage depends on citizens understanding what it is and why it matters and demanding that government policies support, not undermine, true marriage. 
Some might appeal to historical inevitability as a reason to avoid answering the question of what marriage is—as if it were an already moot question. However, changes in public opinion are driven by human choice, not by blind historical forces. The question is not what will happen, but what we should do.

I happen to agree with Anderson's conclusion that we should not wait to be acted upon by what society would have us believe, in that the history has been decided, but rather that we take action as responsible citizens by letting our opinions be known on the importance of why traditional marriage matters, and determine our own future and that of our children and grandchildren.

I've dropped but a morsel of Anderson's well researched defense of traditional marriage, and that of his colleague's, which hopefully will bait you into wanting to learn more of the content expertly articulated in their book, "What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense" and some included within the article that he has so generously allowed me to share here with you.

Make sure and head over to The Heritage Foundation and read Ryan T. Anderson's entire article --  (which he has made available to download) and please consider sharing this information about "What is Marriage?" with others who are also interested in preserving traditional marriage.

Kathryn Skaggs


Courage: To Act in Faith When Fear is Present

Prop 8: Many Surprised to See LDS Church Stand and Re-Affirm Position

The Foundry

Broad, Diverse Defense of Marriage at Supreme Court - Ryan T. Anderson


  1. Absolutely loved this logical, practical approach to defending traditional marriage. Thank you so much for posting this and linking to Heritage Foundation site, it's excellent. Will be using it and sharing it every time the SGM issue comes up.

    1. My pleasure, Angela. It is an excellent site. The resources on Heritage Foundation to help us defend the family are outstanding. I'm so glad that you plan on sharing this information with others. That is precisely what I am hoping everyone will do. Thank you!

  2. Wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing. Years ago I argued that legalizing homosexual unions (whatever you want to call them) is wrong because it legitimizes and normalizes sinful behavior. This post is so helpful to expand the argument and explanation of why I am against same sex unions. I appreciate your efforts.

    1. You're welcome. As I said to someone earlier today, just when we thought we had said everything that we thought there was to say about marriage, we were wrong. In actuality, we have only just begun to have this conversation. And the truly exciting thing about it, is the best parts have yet to be discussed!

      How grateful we all should be for these very thoughtful scholars who have spent a great deal of effort to research and formulate an excellent defense for marriage that most know, but had not, or never thought the need to articulate in such a manner.

  3. Maybe marriage as a religious sacrament predates government, but marriage as a social contract doesn't. I think gay people aren't seeking to destroy anyone's religious sacrament, or to destroy heterosexual marriage. I think they are seeking to have access to the same social contract. Why shouldn't homosexuals in similarly long-term, committed relationships have the same access to the protections under the law to pass property back and forth, receive each other's benefits (i.e. health coverage, social security, disability), have end of life benefits, etc? You can argue that their union isn't the same - because it doesn't produce children - but you can't argue that it's not a valid social contract that would be useful for them.

    1. Let's see if we can move past that debate and take this discussion to where we are currently. Right now, society needs to decide if we are going to redefine marriage and leave behind the foundation of what families and societies of western civilization have been built upon, which I believe most would agree is good.

      The family, which has been, up to this point, the natural byproduct of a marriage, is the basic unit of society and is also, up to this point, the main building block which helps to create the foundation for strong community. This is why there are laws, marriage, to protect and encourage the union/relationship between a man and a woman who make a life commitment remain together and raise the children that they produce from that union; creating a family. The government absolutely has an interest for the community in that union.

      On the other hand, in a same-gender relationship, they do not. Property, romance, sexual relations, tax benefits, etc., are of no interest to the government, as they give them no advantage to protect, as does the union of the male/female conjugal relationship.

      There is no law that says two or three, etc. individuals of the same gender cannot form a contract or seek a legal civil relationship that would give them the protections/benefits they desire. However, to seek to redefine marriage to something that is completely different than what it is naturally, takes away from what it is intended to provide for children and those who would like to fully participate in what marriage is fully intended to be.

      Those who desire to preserve marriage are not anti anything, or anyone, but we are very much pro natural marriage that it remain clearly as it has always been: between a man and a woman, as together they inherently create life naturally forming a family.

      As "What is Marriage?" argues, so well, it's simply not feasible have two definitions of marriage and not dilute the other. People need to clearly understand what they are choosing when doing so, and as marriage has always been serious business, understanding what it entails, its commitment to children, family, etc., needs to continue to be at the forefront of what is marriage.

      Those of the same-gender are free to seek out legal contract to ensure protection, property rights, tax benefits, etc... There are no laws prohibiting any of these things. Redefining marriage is not the only answer.

  4. The issue with the whole redefining marriage issue is that it has been redefined many times. There are many forms of marriage in the Bible, including polygamy. I always get a kick from LDS members who cite marriage as one man/one woman. We redefined marriage then, and were vilified for it. I posit that the mainstream church would still be practicing polygamy if there hadn't been laws against it.

    Bottom line is, you can't argue about Biblical marriage and redefining marriage without realizing that it's been redefined many, many times over the centuries.

    1. God has only ever, scripturally defined marriage to be between a man and a woman. Period.

      Polygamy (or polyandry) is only between one man and multiple wives -- never between the same gender.

      You are free to posit, however, the fact is... polygamy is illegal now and we don't practice it. If a member does, they are immediately excommunicated.

      I think I just argued back... ; )

    2. Kathryn, being LDS and well versed in mormon polygyny/polyandry, and Adam-God, it is not a true statement that "God", at least the LDS god, has only ever defined marriage between man and a woman. It is very fair and accurate to say that all were married together, either directly or by association. You may argue that this may be true for sealing but not marriage. Then I would say that it depends on how you define marriage Where does marriage end and sealing begin. Difficult question to answer, isn't it. So here we have come full circle. We discover the real question is who gets to define marriage? not what is the definition of marriage. Tetisheri is 100% correct in that marriage has been redefined many times throughout human history. You and the author of the book "What is marriage?" assert that there is a transcending definition of marriage. Then go on to really only define marriage as what is procreation methodology. No one will argue that in nature human procreation happens between male and female only. But marriage has never been defined in practice so narrowly as that. However it has been defined many ways throughout the known history of homo sapiens and earlier. The organization of offspring and caregivers for most of the history was not the nuclear family. So to say that this is the way it has always been and therefore the way it should always be is incorrect. I would also say even if it has always been that way, how are you so good at predicting the future to say that it would be best to stay that way?