Conjugal Union: What Marriage Is and Why It Matters

By Peters, Nathaniel | First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, August/September 2015 | Go to article overview

Conjugal Union: What Marriage Is and Why It Matters


Peters, Nathaniel, First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life


Conjugal Union: What Marriage Is and Why It Matters BY PATRICK LEE AND ROBERT P. GEORGE CAMBRIDGE, 152 PAGES, $22.99

In 2012, Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George authored What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense (reviewed by Hans Boersma in the March 2013 issue of First Things). Now, two years later, George has published Conjugal Union with Patrick Lee, and many will want to know how the two books differ. While What Is Marriage? reads more like a public lecture and Conjugal Union like an academic article, the core argument remains the same. As George and his coauthors put it in What Is Marriage?, marriage is "a distinct form of personal union and corresponding way of life . . . whose basic features do not depend on the preferences of individuals or cultures. Marriage is, of its essence, a comprehensive union: a union of will (by consent) and body (by sexual union); inherently ordered to procreation and thus the broad sharing of family life; and calling for permanent and exclusive commitment, whatever the spouses' preference." Because marriages have always been the main and most effective means of rearing healthy and happy children, and because society depends on this, the law should recognize and support marriage rightly understood. To the extent that it fails to do so, social harms result.

Conjugal Union begins by grounding this argument in the New Natural Law understanding of basic human goods. However, one need not accept the theory's anthropology and implied metaphysics in toto to affirm Lee and George's argument about the nature of marriage. Because marriage is a union of all levels of being-body, mind, and spirit-that finds its fruition in bearing and rearing children, but not simply as a means to the end of procreation, Lee and George argue that it must be permanent, exclusive, and not only on the level of emotions. …

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