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In the debate over homosexual marriage, a predominant stereotype holds that there are two distinct and opposing sides. On the side that favors it, of course, are all fair and open-minded people who possess depths of understanding about what enlightened societies should do. On the other are small-minded, backwoods homophobes.

Of course, plenty of evidence exists for the diversity of minds, great and small, on both sides. An impressive gathering of some of these minds and their compelling concerns about the future of same-sex marriage are on display in an important new book, The Meaning of Marriage. Edited by Robert George of Princeton and Jean Bethke Elshtain of the University of Chicago, this volume contains a spirited collection of papers delivered at a Princeton conference in December 2004.

The book draws from a politically diverse, multidisciplinary panel of historians, ethicists, philosophers, economists, sociologists, political scientists, psychiatrists, and public policy experts. While focusing primarily on same-sex marriage, these essays take a larger look at marriage's history, social roles, and changing face.

In the introduction, Elshtain recounts how one of her peers on an earlier academic panel expressed doubts about same-sex marriage. The "learned and relatively affluent" crowd booed him. Elshtain says the experience left "a rather bad taste in my mouth and a genuine sadness about the inability of such well-educated people … to acknowledge the need for such debate." (I can relate. Last year during a debate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, I suggested that intrinsic differences exist between males and females. The mood quickly got ugly, and police escorted me from campus out of concern for my safety.) ...

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July 2006

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