Guest / Limited Access /

Judge Vaughn Walker's decision to overturn California's Proposition 8 poured gasoline on an already raging debate about whether the state should recognize permanent, monogamous gay and lesbian relationships as marriage.

Yet at the very end of 2010, the conversation about gay marriage took a very different turn. In early December, three philosophers—Sherif Girgis, Robert George, and Ryan Anderson published one of the most important efforts in recent years to defend traditional marriage from a purely philosophical standpoint. Though the paper, published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, was obviously less visible than Judge Walker's decision, it has momentarily managed to reframe the public discourse around a single nagging question: what is marriage?

The philosophers' own answer to this question is that marriage is fundamentally not a legal or social construction, but rather is a "a comprehensive interpersonal union that is consummated and renewed by acts of organic bodily union and oriented to the bearing and rearing of children." It's a meaty definition, but they examine and defend it with a patience and care that unlike many technical philosophical works is accessible.

Yet while laboriously and patiently constructed, their case for tradition marriage fits uneasily with popular evangelical notions of ethics. There are two points of discomfort.

First, the authors are adamant—and correct—that the case is not a religious one. Neither the premises nor the logic need special revelation for their support. Yet evangelicals have been wary of natural law arguments. As heirs of the Reformation, most evangelical ethicists have argued that the brokenness of human reason makes it insufficient to successfully ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Current IssueAn Inside Look at China’s Remarkable Religious Resurgence
Subscriber Access Only
An Inside Look at China’s Remarkable Religious Resurgence
Journalist Ian Johnson sees faith on the rise where it was once ruthlessly suppressed.
RecommendedPrinceton Seminary Reforms Its Views on Honoring Tim Keller
Princeton Seminary Reforms Its Views on Honoring Tim Keller
School rescinds a major theology prize amid complaints over women’s ordination.
TrendingRussia’s Plan to Ban Jehovah’s Witnesses Puts Evangelicals in a Tight Spot
Russia’s Plan to Ban Jehovah’s Witnesses Puts Evangelicals in a Tight Spot
Group gives Protestants competition for souls, but also an ally on religious freedom.
Editor's PickFrom Kuyper to Keller: Why Princeton’s Prize Controversy Is So Ironic
From Kuyper to Keller: Why Princeton’s Prize Controversy Is So Ironic
Former winner explains how the seminary honor that once brought the Reformed community together is now splitting it.
Christianity Today
Why Natural Law Arguments Make Evangelicals Uncomfortable
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

March 2011

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.