What is Marriage?

43 Pages Posted: 11 Dec 2010 Last revised: 23 Nov 2012

See all articles by Sherif Girgis

Sherif Girgis

Notre Dame Law School

Robert George

Princeton University

Ryan T. Anderson

The Ethics and Public Policy Center; University of Dallas

Date Written: November 23, 2012


In the article, we argue that as a moral reality, marriage is the union of a man and a woman who make a permanent and exclusive commitment to each other of the type that is naturally fulfilled by bearing and rearing children together, and renewed by acts that constitute the behavioral part of the process of reproduction. We further argue that there are decisive principled as well as prudential reasons for the state to enshrine this understanding of marriage in its positive law, and to resist the call to recognize as marriages the sexual unions of same-sex partners.

Besides making this positive argument for our position and raising several objections to the view that same-sex unions should be recognized, we address what we consider the strongest philosophical objections to our view of the nature of marriage, as well as more pragmatic concerns about the point or consequences of implementing it as a policy.


We have revamped and expanded our argument for a new book, "What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense," available now for preorder (see below) and released in December 2012. The book revamps the article's argument, bolstering and elaborating its positive points for a general audience, answering the most common and serious objections, and sharpening objections for opposing views.

We will be posting reviews, and replies to new critiques as they arise, at whatismarriagebook.com

Keywords: marriage, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, traditional marriage, Proposition 8

Suggested Citation

Girgis, Sherif and George, Robert and Anderson, Ryan T., What is Marriage? (November 23, 2012). Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 245-287, Winter 2010, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1722155

Sherif Girgis (Contact Author)

Notre Dame Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 780
Notre Dame, IN 46556-0780
United States

Robert George

Princeton University ( email )

Fisher Hall
Princeton, NJ 08540
United States

Ryan T. Anderson

The Ethics and Public Policy Center ( email )

1730 M Street NW Suite 910
Washington, DC 20036

University of Dallas ( email )

1845 E. Northgate Dr.
Irving, TX 75026
United States

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