A Review of What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense

The following are notes from a presentation delivered in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the course ME 8000 Contemporary Sexualities: Theological and Missiological Perspectives taught by Dr. Robert Priest and Dr. Stephen Roy at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, October 2015.



  • Authored by Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, and Robert George.
  • Published in December 2012, about two and a half years before the Obergefell decision (June 2015).
  • Based on an article published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.[1]
  • Considered by many to be the most formidable defense of the conjugal view of marriage and has been highly read and engaged.[2]
  • Seeks to defend the conjugal view of marriage and demonstrate its rational and therefore constitutional basis.[3] The authors argue that “redefining civil marriage is unnecessary, unreasonable, and contrary to the common good.”[4]
  • They seek to do so without appeal to religious authority[5] or historical precedent (i.e., “It’s always been this way”),[6] and only secondarily by the support from the social sciences.[7] Their argument is mainly philosophical in nature.[8]


The underlying assumption that drives the entire project is the following: To argue that gay and lesbian couples ought to have equal access to marriage assumes a priori that same-sex couples can actually constitute a marriage. But this begs the question—the question that serves as the title to this book—what is marriage? A couple is not restricted from access to marriage if that couple cannot—by definition—constitute a marriage. We cannot simply argue that everyone ought to have equal access to marriage. We first need to make a case for what that marriage is to which we think everyone, i.e., everyone who can actually constitute it, ought to have equal access. As they state very succinctly, the issue at stake here is “not about whom to let marry, but about what marriage is” (emphasis added).[9]

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