Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy 34:1 (Winter, 2010), with Sherif Girgis and Ryan T. Anderson.
What is marriage?
Consider two competing views:
Conjugal View: 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 (inherently) fulfilled by bearing and rearing children together. The spouses seal (consummate) and renew their union by conjugal acts—acts that constitute the behavioral part of the process of reproduction, thus uniting them as a reproductive unit. Marriage is valuable in itself, but its inherent orientation to the bearing and rearing of children contributes to its distinctive structure, including norms of monogamy and fidelity. This link to the welfare of children also helps explain why marriage is important to the common good and why the state should recognize and regulate it.
Revisionist View: Marriage is the union of two people (whether of the same sex or of opposite sexes) who commit to romantically loving and caring for each other and to sharing the burdens and benefits of domestic life. It is essentially a union of hearts and minds, enhanced by whatever forms of sexual intimacy both partners find agreeable. The state should recognize and regulate marriage because it has an interest in stable romantic partnerships and in the concrete needs of spouses and any children they may choose to rear.
It has sometimes been suggested that the conjugal under‐ standing of marriage is based only on religious beliefs. This is false. Although the world’s major religious traditions have historically understood marriage as a union of man and woman that is by nature apt for procreation and childrearing, this suggests merely that no one religion invented marriage. Instead, the demands of our common human nature have shaped (however imperfectly) all of our religious traditions to recognize this natural institution. As such, marriage is the type of social practice whose basic contours can be discerned by our common human reason, whatever our religious background. We argue in this Article for legally enshrining the conjugal view of marriage, using arguments that require no appeal to religious authority.