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"Beyond Gay Marriage"

The stated goal of these prominent gay activists is no longer merely the freedom to live as they want.

12:00 AM, Aug 17, 2006 • By RYAN T. ANDERSON
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The people putting out this statement are not fringe figures. The more than 300 signatories include feminist icon Gloria Steinem, NYU sociologist Judith Stacey, Columbia University anthropologist Elizabeth Povinelli, Georgetown law professors Robin West and Chai Feldblum, the Rev. Cecil Charles Prescod of Love Makes a Family, Inc., Yale law professor Kenji Yoshino, Princeton religion professor Cornel West, writer Barbara Ehrenreich, and Pat Clark, former executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

And these leaders have done no more than to affirm the logical implications of abandoning the conjugal conception of marriage as the exclusive union of sexually complementary spouses. There is no middle way between their demands and the conjugal conception of marriage. Either every consensual sexual and familial relationship is of equal value and thus merits equal legal recognition, or else conjugal marriage represents a unique human good and thus merits state recognition and support.

The conjugal conception of marriage is brilliantly defended in a short book released earlier this summer by the Witherspoon Institute of Princeton, New Jersey. The document, titled Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles, addresses the unique importance of conjugal marriage for individuals and societies from the perspective of varied academic disciplines: sociology, psychology, biology, history, economics, moral and political philosophy, and law. Unlike "Beyond Gay Marriage," a mere collection of assertions, Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles is a heavily researched, meticulously detailed scholarly document citing the best, most recent academic findings on marriage, family structure, and spousal and child well-being.

Now commonly referred to as the Princeton Principles, the document has already made significant contributions to the public debate on marriage. In a White House meeting of civic leaders convened to discuss marriage this past June, Princeton University's Professor George handed President Bush a copy of the just-published book. Senator Sam Brownback later quoted from the statement during Senate debate of the Federal Marriage Amendment. Bush and Brownback took note of the Principles because they are endorsed by an all-star list of over sixty scholars, including James Q. Wilson of Pepperdine University, Paul McHugh of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Amy Wax of the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, Hadley Arkes of Amherst College, Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School, Leon R. Kass and Jean Bethke Elshtain of the University of Chicago, Jeremy Rabkin of Cornell University, Stephen Nock of the University of Virginia, and Daniel N. Robinson of Oxford University.

According to the drafters, the document seemed necessary for two reasons. First, because the very idea that the public has an interest in "a socially supported normative understanding of marriage" is under attack, especially in the academy. To make matters worse, "too often, the rational case for marriage is not made at all or not made very well." Defending marriage would thus "require confronting these attacks, assessing their arguments, and correcting them where necessary." The Principles do just this, concluding with a statement as bold for the academy as it is commonsensical to most Americans: "We are persuaded that the case for marriage can be made and won at the level of reason."

Second, the authors--almost all of whom are professors--thought that they owed this report to their students: "On behalf of our students, we need to make this statement, since marriage is above all a choice for the young: they need arguments to counterbalance the dominant arguments now attacking marriage as unjust and undesirable, and they need to know what marriage is in order to sustain their own marriages and raise their own children."

The authors of the Princeton Principles demonstrate how and why the demands of "Beyond Gay Marriage" lead to the detriment of spouses, children, and civil society. After providing a concise list of principles to guide civic leaders in their thinking about marriage and public life, the book launches into the best currently-available, one-stop scholarly resource of social science and philosophical reflection on marriage. The authors first examine the well-being of children in relation to marriage, family structure, and the different contributions mothers and fathers make to the parenting enterprise. They then look to the well-being of adults in various sexual relationships. Finally, they assess the public consequences of marital breakdown, its disproportionate effects on the poor, and the overreaching, intrusive state emerging from the social disintegration.