Book review: What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense

This book review of a great recent book on marriage is worth reading in full.


Why should the state have an interest in intimate personal relationships? Nowhere do the authors suggest that consenting adults should be prevented from forming whatever intense emotional bonds they please. But it is a fallacy to conflate the issue of freedom of sexual expression with the institution of marriage. The state has an interest in children, first of all because it has a responsibility to promote their welfare, and secondly because the common institutions of society have an interest in our common future. Marriage, the authors write,

is a bond of a special kind. It unites spouses in body as well as mind and heart, and it is especially apt for, and enriched by, procreation and family life. In light of both these facts, it alone objectively calls for commitments of permanence and exclusivity. Spouses vow their whole selves for their whole lives. This comprehensiveness puts the value of marriage in a class apart from the value of other relationships.

That is the conjugal view of marriage, in the authors’ definition. It is permanent and comprehensive, as opposed to an intense emotional bond, which may dissolve as quickly as it was formed. That may be convenient for lovers but catastrophic for their children.

Only the union of a man and woman can be comprehensive, the authors argue. The issue isn’t dignity, which all human beings deserve. Instead, the issue is what a married man and woman can do that no other human arrangement can do: “Marriage is ordered to family life because the act by which spouses make love also makes new life; one and the same act both seals a marriage and brings forth children. That is why marriage alone is the loving union of mind and body fulfilled by the procreation – and rearing – of whole new human beings.”

Across the ideological spectrum, researchers agree that “the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage. Children in single-parent families, children born to unmarried mothers, and children in stepfamilies or cohabiting relationships face higher risks of poorer outcomes,” as the research institution Child Trends concluded. And as Professor Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project concluded, “The core message…is that the wealth of nations depends in no small part on the health of the family.”

Adoption by gay parents does not do as well: The authors present a wide range of research showing that “compared to children of parents at least one of whom had a gay or lesbian relationship, those reared by their married biological parents were found to have fared better on dozens of indicators”. Part of the reason that married biological parents do better may have to do with sexual exclusivity, which is virtually nonexistent in male homosexual relationships according to the standard research on the subject.

The state cannot help but take an interest, for it gets the bill for the damages when marriage breaks down. As George et al write, “Since a strong marriage culture is good for children, spouses, indeed our whole economy, and especially the poor, it also serves the cause of limited government. Most obviously, where marriages never form or easily break down, the state expands to fill the domestic vacuum by lawsuits to determine paternity, visitation rights, child support, and alimony.”

That is the fallacy of the libertarian argument in favor of absenting the state from all questions involving personal intimacy. Society can get along with a small government if it has strong private institutions: families, churches, charities, schools and volunteer associations. Among these the family has more weight than all the rest put together. The state, and above all a state that seeks self-limitation, needs the family to flourish.

This book review is a great summary of the history of marriage, the essential issue in the redefinition of marriage (the selfishness of adults), and why marriage matters to society. Really recommend this one! Everyone who defends marriage these days seems to get called every kind of name possible. We face all kinds of persecution from being put on trial to being harmed in the academy and the workplace. Largely because we cannot put our intuitions about the goodness of marriage into arguments, and then support them with evidence.

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6 thoughts on “Book review: What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense”

  1. WK, I’ve heard the argument made for the importance of procreation as a part of marriage and I think it’s a valid one. My question though would be whether it should logically follow then that couples who are incapable of having children should also be prevented from marriage? I think there are some valid responses to that as well, but wanted to get your take.

    Thanks, and love the site


    1. Here are two reasons why:

      1) There is no way to tell whether couples are able to have children before they marry, unless we want force everyone to engage in premarital sex. I’m against premarital sex period, because I’m a serious Christian who accepts what the Bible says about it, and I’ve taken the time to augment that conviction with evidence. So no way.

      2) Opposite sex couples can adopt and they can provide children with a male influence, a female influence, and example of love between the male and female that is based on an exclusive, permanent commitment, not lust and promiscuity. That has value to society.


      1. On #1, perhaps, but if people in their 60’s are getting married, you could probably safely assume at that point that they couldn’t have children (although your 2nd point kind of addresses that).

        On #2, I think the problem here is that there is so little information on what the results of same sex marriage are on children raised in them. I was reading about the controversy around the UT sociologist who published his report and is getting blasted about it, but even he admits his sample size is small. But this is an issue for LGBT activists as well, in that their claims of children being just as well off are based on wishful speculation. Right now we simply don’t know because there’s not enough data on it. What I would argue is that the only thing we do know right now is that the natural order of things is that only a man and a woman can make a child, so it’s not far fetched to assert that those two components are also important in raising one. To say they aren’t is to put one’s political motives ahead of all else, at least at this point in time. Saying “But I know a really nice gay couple” may be true, but isn’t quite enough.

        I think a 3rd point you could raise has to do with the reasons for marriage that aren’t tied to children – protection of women and a safeguard against men who (sadly) all too often try to run from marriage and leave their responsibilities behind. Now I suppose one could argue that those things are changing, but I also think the nature of men and women is such that there will always be more women who want to stay home and put aside a career to have children than there will be men. I think that’s simply a biological impulse that can make women vulnerable in terms of dependence on their husband (should he decide to abandon them, something i’ve seen much too often), and marriage provides protection against that.


        1. All you have to do to know the value of a mother is look at studies on motherless children.

          All you have to do to know the value of a father is look at studies on fatherless children.

          In both cases, children suffer enormous setbacks from having to do without one or the other, but also doing without the example of the two together in a relationship. It’s the interaction between the two that is so educational for the children who look on and learn from it.

          Please see responses to criticisms of the Regnerus study here:

          Second, the Regnerus study’s not a single outlier, there are others that confirm it.


          Click to access Potter.pdf

          Third, the PREVIOUS studies that argued against the Regnerus study have real problems.


          Not just small sample sizes, but selection effects, etc.

          Fourth, women divorce men about 67% of the time, and the vast majority of divorces occur when women are younger, not older.
          The idea of men who trade in their 40 year old for 2 20s is a myth. Women have everything to gain by filing for divorce,
          since they get custody about 90% of the time, and with it the child support money, plus the house and alimony.

          A good book on this is “Taken Into Custody” by Dr. Stephen Baskerville.


          1. I’m definitely not debating the value of a father and/or mother. Nor do I disagree with you that a home with a mother and father is a healthier, more natural environment for a child than a same sex marriage. Like I said before, the fact that the natural order of things is such that only a man and a woman can make a child does, IMO, also tell us a lot about the natural order of how a child should be raised. I think that argument can be raised from a purely biological perspective. Doesn’t it seem odd that nature would require both sexes to be involved in the creation of something, but then having both sexes would suddenly be irrelevant in the nurturing of it? I’ve never really seen a good response from the LGBT community on that one.

            Where I think you may run into issues from those who do disagree with you is going from (a.) single parent homes create problems for kids to (b.) therefore same sex homes would as well. The argument you may get in response is that the problem in a single parent home is the fact that there’s only one parent, which wouldn’t be the case in a same sex home. Again, I think your conclusion is correct, I’m just not sure that particular method of getting there is airtight.

            In terms of the studies, again, I don’t disagree with their conclusion. I just think that until/unless a much larger data set is available, these studies will always subject to criticisms of “too small a sample size”. That being said, these studies will always be subject to criticisms by whatever community they portray unfavorably, so that problem will likely never go away.

            And I was actually using the example of men leaving women more often as a supporting point for traditional marriage, but if your stats are correct, then that argument would become irrelevant since it would no longer be necessary. I was going off of my personal observation, but obviously I haven’t observed every divorce in the country.


  2. I believe in man-woman marriage because of my religion, period. However, to be able to defend it logically, fundamentally, I think, the only effective way is to prove that homosexual sex is logically wrong to do.


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