Reply to George: I. Introduction

Rob Tisinai

February 7th, 2011

Over the next few weeks I’ll publish a series of posts analyzing Robert George’s article, “What is Marriage?”

Robert George authored The Manhattan Declaration and is the Founding Chairman of Maggie Gallagher’s National Organization for Marriage, but don’t let that fool you. He’s an intellectual heavyweight, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University. A recent profile in the New York Times dubbed him America’s “most influential conservative Christian thinker,” and described his reputation:

Karl Rove told me he considers George a rising star on the right and a leading voice in persuading President George W. Bush to restrict embryonic stem-cell research. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told me he numbers George among the most-talked-about thinkers in conservative legal circles. And Newt Gingrich called him “an important and growing influence” on the conservative movement, especially on matters like abortion and marriage…

George has assumed his mantle as the reigning brain of the Christian right.

George published “What is Marriage” in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. It’s been hailed as “a definitive defense of the institution of traditional marriage.  Just two months after its publication, it’s become the most downloaded paper of the past year at the Social Science Research Network.

The article’s over 40 pages long, and my analysis will match that easily. I’ll post it in chunks every two or three days.

Blogging is inherently presumptuous: Look at me!  I wrote this!  You should read it! But it feels especially presumptuous asking people to read a long, multi-part rebuttal to an academic article.  I hope you’ll do it anyway, for several reasons.

  1. George’s article has substance. If you’re ever frustrated — or even embarrassed — by having to deal with arguments from the likes of Brian Brown and Bryan Fischer, arguments so ludicrous they fall apart on their own, then Robert George will seem like a whole new world.  Even if his brain gets it entirely wrong, it’s still a powerful brain.
  2. George’s article may improve your own thinking about marriage equality.  There’s little challenge or growth in dealing with ridiculous opponents.  Wrestling with George’s arguments forced me to think more deeply about same-sex marriage and marriage in general.  You might find this, too.
  3. George’s article will be influential. You know those talking points spouted by foes of equality?  The next round of them are being harvested from George’s work.  Knowing his work will arm you against them.
  4. I could use your help. Robert George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University and I’m…not.  I’d like to pull these rebuttal posts into a single downloadable file, something that would benefit from your insights and corrections to this series of posts.

So that starts tomorrow.  In the meantime, you can download George’s article here if you want a head start.


February 7th, 2011

I note that you clearly give George’s credentials (“Professor of …”). What about your own?

Most of the nonsense flung in our faces comes from intellectual lightweights, people spouting off about a topic they have no expertise in. That stuff is easily debunked. However, if the Right is crowing about how much intellectual heft this guy has they will dismiss our response on the grounds we don’t have the credentials to match. Of course, they’ll dismiss it anyway.

Even so, bigotry wrapped up in pretty intellectual packages is still bigotry and rebutting it is something we should have no trouble with. Remember, we’re playing to the flexible middle, not the hard-core Right.

My own credentials? Master of Music. Even so, I’m ready to help take him on.

Rob Tisinai

February 7th, 2011

Not much in the way of credentials, I’m afraid. I’ve done all the coursework for a Ph.D. in economics at Stanford, but that was years ago. I’m afraid I’ll have to make up for it by making more sense that Professor George. We’ll see how that goes.


February 7th, 2011

Just read it. It’s a fine piece of academic work, in my opinion. His language is clear, accessible and even eloquent at times.

I do believe him to be wrong for what I believe to be good reason, though.

I will see if I can help out soon, have an essay to turn in first, lol. I’m merely an undergrad, so I doubt I’ll be as useful as many others here. Will start the source-checking soon though.


February 7th, 2011

I’ll be glad to pitch in.

I’ve glanced through the first section and so far I’ve learned that people who can’t or don’t have penile-vaginal intercourse (even if they are a man-woman couple) can’t be really married and that childless couples are losers at marriage (although they get to play the game).

I’ve also learned that whatever their credentials and eloquence of language they are still not above the practice of cherry-picking sociological findings regarding parenting.

David in Houston

February 7th, 2011

I’ve read through most of George’s What is Marriage. What an absolute load of hyperbolic garbage. I found fault with virtually every page I read. He could have narrowed his entire thesis to one paragraph: “Men have a penis, and women have a vagina. That’s why they should have the right to marry. That’s his basic premise. Because men and women can have natural intercourse, it makes their relationship SO special that gay “close friendships” pale by comparison. Yeah, my husband and I have a VERY close friendship after 15 years together.

In addition, he thinks people that are homosexual are immoral.” — He uses the word “moral” quite a lot in his writings. As though, all heterosexuals are inherently moral. Gays? Not so much.


February 7th, 2011

“…organic bodily union…”

If this guy really is considered a heavyweight.. I’m not sure if that reflects worse on law experts or our species in general.

His entire argument is based on placing a definition and reason for marriage that can not be found IN any law.

David S.

February 7th, 2011

A very good article to read in rebuttal to Robert George’s paper is:

“What Is Bodily Union? (A response to What Is Marriage?)” by Barry Deutsch


February 7th, 2011

This is long, and I hope I’m not stealing your thunder. Feel free to take anything from this for your own articles.

I’ve been reading through the paper and the whole thing seems to hinge on the idea that since marriage is a total and complete union of two individuals, this requires “bodily union” as well as mental etc. union, and the only “bodily union” that can occur between two individuals is reproductive sexual activity. They think this is because biological coordination or union of any particular body part to the rest of the body is to be explained by reference to the function it serves or assists in [i.e. stomach —> digestion —> nutrition] and the only “bodily function” each person is not already self-sufficient in is reproduction.

Clearly though there are a billion objections to the basic foundation for their argument:

1. Not everyone agrees that marriage is to be conceived of as the ‘total union’ of two individuals. See here the “union account of love” and objections to it: . The fact that the authors of this paper [including a Princeton Ph.D student!!!!] are seemingly not aware of this basic literature regarding union accounts of romantic relationships [given that they are apparently taking this premise completely for granted] is frankly stunning to me.

2. It’s not obvious that the relevant sort of union, if describing marriage relationships as a union is correct, includes bodily things. The authors say that sharing bodily activity i.e procreative sex makes marriage unique from all other forms of friendship [clearly they haven’t heard of friends with benefits] but you could easily argue that some distinctive form of continually sharing life activities is what’s essentially important to the “union”. The authors also state that if you’re not sharing bodies, you’re not sharing a distinctive and essential part of yourself, but I wonder how specific we have to get here. Daily hygiene routines are essential for maintaining my existence as an individual and I probably do them in a way very unique to me, but I doubt anyone would say that my partner needs to help me wash my ass or watch me poop.

3. The authors make a teleological argument saying that the only common good or purpose that two bodies can uniquely fulfill as a union is procreation. This strikes me as off: the first thing that I thought is that if you’ve got some illness or disability that requires you to have outside assistance to stay alive or to fulfill your basic biological functions this could plausibly count as a “bodily union” under their account. But clearly if your best pal or your sister comes over every day to help care for you this partnership is not a “marriage”. The authors also make a brief argument about a “tennis union” which they say doesn’t count as the relevant sort of bodily union because….. well, because their intuition tells them so [there is no argument offered for this independent of “it’s not conjugal!”]. But why not? You can’t play tennis alone. Can’t have anal or oral sex alone either.

It appears to be the case that the authors are appealing to some sort of “natural fact” to exclude any other plausible “bodily union”; tennis isn’t a natural organic bodily function and neither are any of the sex acts performed between two persons of the same sex. As the authors state, “two men or two women cannot achieve organic bodily union since there is no bodily
good or function toward which their bodies can coordinate, reproduction being the only candidate.” The authors rule out pleasure as a potential common good in a footnote for what appears to be shady reasons to me [they refer to another paper which I haven’t read].

Their argument on why infertile couples should be allowed to marry is also dependent on their being a natural “type” or “kind” of union that their marriage fulfills despite the individual “token” or particular instance of their marriage cannot result in children and may not be explicitly aimed at procreation. Footnote 56 is their elaboration of this: unlike a knife or a gun which no longer have their purposes if people don’t use them according to convention, the authors claim that genitals have a set natural purpose independently of what humans actually do with them.

The authors do not address or recognize any arguments that sexual activity and genitals may have a “natural” non-procreative purpose i.e. social bonding or hierarchy maintenance. Sexual activity clearly has these functions in other species, and I would say it’s obvious that this is the case with humans as well.

They also seem to confuse the historical origins of marriage [as a means of codifying restrictions on procreative activity] with what ought to be the case legally about marriage; even if these considerations were guiding how marriage has been practiced forever and how the concept of ‘marriage’ has come to have the features it has, this means nothing about whether it *should* be this way. Granted they have a section devoted to why male-female marriage is best for children and society, but they seem to take as self-evident that describing the biological considerations driving the original concept of marriage somehow dictates how it ideally ought to be practiced. Classic is-ought fallacy I think.

The authors also have this weird essentialist or analytic strategy where since same-sex partnerships don’t *necessarily* involve the idea of procreation they are substandard because even if many same-sex couples care for children, this isn’t conceptually linked to the idea of their union. And so same-sex couples might give up the whole children thing or the ideal of having children might get lost along the way or something; they have “no reason” to have children. I think this ties into the whole natural grounding for marriage thing, in that political conservatives and certain religious arguers worry that if there isn’t some ultimate foundation for moral precepts [God, “natural law”] then why does anyone bother doing anything moral??? If marriage is “merely” a social contract then it is uncoupled from so-called biological prerogatives about children, then why would anyone have kids???? But in the general moral case that’s a horrible argument; likewise marriage being a social convention doesn’t mean that it doesn’t actually serve to promote societal stability and childrearing. It does, though, make marriage a malleable institution and means that the “revisionists” might have a point. It allows pro-equality activists to say that they are fighting for an opening of marriage rather than promoting “fake” marriages or marriage alternatives.

There are a lot of well-worn anti-gay tactics in here, some of which are decidedly without any nuance or intellectual merit, including

1. “What about incest, huh?!”
2. “Ew, gross, polyamory!”
3. dodgy empirical claims about same-sex parenting, marriage being a cultural universal, and marriage norms being linked to actual adherence to them [hello American South and your divorce/teen pregnancy rates!
4. weird pseudo-arguments involving fears of “state spending” and “big government” [look at those Scandinavian countries!!!]
5. liberal quoting of radical queers and feminists out of context [see! they are trying to destroy marriage!]
6. denying that committed same-sex relationships are any different from ordinary friendship, roommate situations, or casual sex arrangements
7. tiny-violin playing at losing religious or conservative culture because people won’t legally be able to discriminate against same-sex couples
8. looking at homosexuality as an unfortunate condition and/or a special burden that gives gays opportunities to overcome it and sparkle and shine
9. non-recognition of same-sex relationships isn’t actively depriving anyone of anything because the homos are merely like people who don’t marry due to life circumstance, i.e. ’cause they are poor or too ugly or something
10. homosexuality is alterable or at least ignorable without any significant detrimental effects to well-being
11. using a “natural” argument for marriage but denying that the fact that homosexuality is “natural” means anything
12. using gay male examples repeatedly [gay men are horny promiscuous bastards] but largely ignoring female same-sex relationships

I also note that the paper completely fails to address trans and intersex individuals and whether we should permit marriages where one or both individuals have changed sex/gender status or somehow deviate from a binary understanding of sex. Should we permit Sally to stay married to Joan if she married Joan when Joan was legally “Joe”? If Joan has completed bottom surgery [and is now unable to procreate, but possesses a body structure analogous to a natal female’s vagina] does her marriage and sex with a man aim at procreative purposes like an infertile natal female’s marriage to a man would [does her neovagina have an essential natural purpose or merely a conventional one, being an artificially created thing]? Where do people with ambiguous sex characteristics fit into this at all?

I really hope you rip this thing apart because it needs to be torn a new one or two. I studied philosophy in college so this paper is absolutely infuriating to me. Did you know Girgis [the Princeton philosopher] is a Rhodes scholar and won prizes for best thesis [his thesis was on how any non-marital sex is immoral] at Princeton? Makes me spitting mad.

P.S. sorry for all the brackets instead of parenthesis, my keyboard is broken.

Rob Tisinai

February 7th, 2011

George’s response to Deutsch:


February 7th, 2011

I just found some of Girgis’ responses to various objections here:

Richard Rush

February 7th, 2011

If Robert George is an “intellectual heavyweight” and if “What is Marriage” is “hailed as a definitive defense of the institution of traditional marriage,” I wonder why he didn’t testify as an expert witness in the Prop 8 trial?

Last year I watched/listened to this conversation between Robert George and Robert Wright. I came away thinking that George has a very large vocabulary, and knows stuff – lots and lots of stuff. If each piece of stuff equals a dot, George connects those dots in a way that allows him to arrive at the conclusions he wants.

Just because someone has an overwhelming amount of knowledge doesn’t mean that they have the ability or desire to process it to arrive at conclusions that would naturally flow from the facts.

Rob Lll

February 7th, 2011

Rob Tisinai,

May I be candid here? You seem a little…nervous. I admire your willingness to admit that and even more so your willingness to take on this debate in spite of that trepidation.

But I’d like to second what Kat and Richard have already touched on above. Do not be intimidated by the credentials. I worked in academia for years (as a researcher and later an administrator) and interacted with faculty every day. My observation is that the best-known academics — at least in laymen’s circles — are not necessarily the brightest or most accomplished, but sometimes simply the most adept at self-promotion.

I’ve been following George ever since he testified in favor of Colorado’s Amendment 2. I’ve seen him debate in person twice. In my opinion, that such a shady and fatuous character is considered an “intellectual heavyweight” (by whom?) reflects more on the increasing general debasement of academic discourse and the primacy of skillful PR than it does on any actual accomplishment. And I’m not saying that simply because he’s a conservative — that narcissistic blowhard Cornel West is an example of the same phenomenon on the left.

Even if he is an intellectual heavy hitter, bright or even brilliant people are not a priori correct in their opinions simply by virtue of their intelligence. The most eloquently stated, rigorously constructed argument is invalid if it is based on premises that are false or do not admit of proof at all. To me, the “Bodily Union” argument seems so divorced from the actual day-to-day experience of real-world marriages (homo- and heterosexual) that it simply amazes me that anyone could read it without laughing. Focus on this dubious foundation and the entire edifice will come toppling down.

David S.

February 8th, 2011

Sherif Girgis apparently wrote a senior thesis at Princeton University entitled “Why Bad Sex is Like Torture.”

This thesis insisted that “bad sex” included “forms of sexual conduct that are intrinsically non-marital and are, as such, immoral even when engaged in by persons who are married to each other.” In other words, oral sex and anal sex — even when engaged in between heterosexually married persons — are comparable to torture.


(Nota bene: I haven’t actually read the thesis.)


February 8th, 2011


His “credentials” and yours are of no relevance. This isn’t an issue that requires technical, specialized or esoteric skill or knowledge. What matters is the soundness of the arguments and the weight and validity of evidence in support of those arguments. If it gives you more confidence, please note that George has for years been peddling arguments similar to the ones in his current article in support of all manner of anti-gay laws, including Colorado’s Amendment 2 and Texas’ sodomy law. He was as unpersuasive and unsuccessful then as he is now.

I think George’s argument is laughably overrated. I am the first one to acknowledge when the other side has a good argument. But that isn’t the case here. George is a believer in “natural law” which is among the most vacuous and dishonest concepts contrived in law. It operates as nothing more than a stand-in for his religious beliefs with highly selective references to anatomy and nature to serve as a fig leaf of objectivity. It is the legal equivalent of the intelligent design theory of creation.

I wouldn’t be too concerned about the praise that George has been getting. George gets effusive praise from people who agree with him b/c that is what academics in polarized fields do. They rarely criticize or undermine fellow academics on “their” side, and they expect the same treatment in return. You can see the same thing on the left. Google the name of any “rising star” in critical legal studies or feminist law and prepare to be swamped with a tsunami of comically lavish praise from other CLS and feminist academics.

Don’t take it seriously. Just focus on the argument with an emphasis on his unstated assumptions, unsupported assertions about human nature or nature in general, and his selective and distorted citations to natural phenomena.

You might find the following piece helpful. When you go to the page, do a search on the page for
Dale Carpenter, August 17, 2006, about half-way down.


February 8th, 2011

Even granting that George is right about the organic bodily union thing (and I have deep reservations about this: in the way, for example, an infertile heterosexual couple achieve OBU, George seems to ascribe metaphysical value to purely physical acts without any good reason to do so), he fails to justify OBU as the foundation on which marriage rests.

It seems to me a clear case of cum hoc reasoning: marriage has always been between opposite sex couples (glossing over the historical fact of polygyny); the only difference between opposite sex coupling and same sex coupling is OBU; therefore OBU is an essential component of marriage.

This ignores all the sociological reasons that marriage has been between opposite sex participants, and it fails to explain why public policy should align itself with the historical trend and fly in the face of the fundamental right of gay people to be afforded the same protections as everyone else. Why should we not seize the opportunity to redefine marriage (if that is indeed what we’re doing) to extend its benefits to more people? What harm results; who loses?


February 8th, 2011

Good for you to be willing to tackle this. It’s the sort of thing that I’d be happy to weigh in on, and I may contribute down the line — if I can ever get caught up on my own commitments, which are overwhelming right now.

To reinforce a couple of comments above: “Credentials” don’t count. It’s the coherence and quality of the argument that matter, and just from what a couple of commenters here have noted about George’s paper, it appears as though his argument is lacking, beginning with the essential tautology of his “definition” — and no matter how you dress it up, a tautology is still a tautology.


February 8th, 2011

In reading through a lot of their defenses, the one thing that jumped out at me was their reliance on “permanence and exclusivity” as essential characteristics of marriage as well as this notion of body unity. I was surprised that no one called them out on that. From a Nutural Law standpoint, the body unity argument at least makes some sense – it takes a male and a female joined together to make a new human. (The argument here then becomes whether this feature is essential to marriage or not, not on whether it’s true, useful or necessary). But nothing in Natural Law demands exclusivity or permanence. Their continued reliance on such terms belies their Victorian-era Christian approach to marriage. Divorce exists and unless they are going to argue that all divorced people are still really married, “permanence” is not an essential feature. Exclusivity is also not essential as myriad cultures for thousands of years had had some form of polygamous marriages, included many in their bible.

Having now removed 2 or their 3 “essential” characteristics, we are left with “marriage is defined by heterosexual people having sex in a way that could create a baby” where they often fall back on the idea that churches and governments have used “consummation” as a way to decide if a marriage is real or not. From a legal stand point however, having intercourse is not essential or even required for a legal marriage (a prisoner can get married even if conjugal visits are not allowed).

For their argument to work, “marriage” must have some “essential” characteristics that apply to it and only it, but the 3 they give, do not.


February 8th, 2011

Because the state’s value‐neutrality on this question (of the
proper contours and norms of marriage) is impossible if there is to be any marriage law at all, abolishing the conjugal understanding of marriage would imply that committed same‐sex and oppositesex romantic unions are equivalently real marriages. The state would thus be forced to view conjugal‐marriage supporters as bigots who make groundless and invidious distinctions. In ways that have been catalogued by Marc Stern of the American Jewish Committee and by many other defenders of the rights of conscience, this would undermine religious freedom and the rights of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children.

The argument against this point is actually surprisingly simple: whether or not gay marriage is legal does not affect whether or not “religious freedom and the rights of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children” is undermined. It merely determines who has those rights undermined.

This is, in fact, a consistent pattern throughout that entire section. For example:

The implications are clear: if marriage is legally redefined, believing what every human society once believed about marriage—namely, that it is a male‐female union—will increasingly be regarded as evidence of moral insanity, malice, prejudice, injustice, and hatred.

At present the current law are often used as corroborating “evidence” for claims that homosexuals are immoral, insane, dangerous or evil. Some even claim that gays and lesbians are demonically possessed!

In short, marriage should command our attention and energy more than many other moral causes because so many dimensions of the common good are damaged if the moral truth about marriage is obscured.

This claim is also surprisingly weak. “Moral truth” is an unashamedly religious concept and therefore highly subjective, hence what two different people consider to be moral can easily come into direct conflict with each other.

Jesus’ story of the good Samaritan is a prime example of this: the priests passed by the man because they feared committed what was, for them, an immoral act: touching a dead body. Yet Jesus’ own moral code – the one which (by and large) we have inherited – required that the man be helped.

Likewise just as for many people permitting gay marriage is immoral, denying it is no less immoral for many others – including many people of faith.

At this point we’re back to dealing with equal and conflicting rights. In such a situation where there is a moral conflict it seems to me that the preferable – dare I say moral – option is whichever involves the least harm. Barring the consequences of prejudice (which, as I’ve already established, will happen either way) I have yet to hear of any way in which legalising gay marriage causes direct, quantifiable harm to those opposed to it. However I can think of dozens of real-world examples of how the gay marriage ban currently harms people, ranging from less-significant problems, like paying higher rates of tax, to more serious ones like losing your home when your partner dies, being unable to make critical medical decisions for them, or being unable to sponsor them for residency.

N.b. that’s the only section of the article I’ve checked through so far – I kinda made a beeline for it because I wanted to see if George made some strong arguments on that particular topic; I have to say I was disappointed by their wet-tissue-paper weakness. In fact they remind me somewhat of the arguments presented in favour of Intelligent Design in the Kitzmiller trial. Rather than basing theory around the known facts, the pro-ID arguments attempted to make the known facts conform to a pre-existing theory, and it does seem that George attempts the same here. That he is attempting to do so is betrayed by his use of religious terminology like “moral truth”, and his attempt to conflate moral truth with known facts.

Mihangel apYrs

February 8th, 2011

I haven’t had time to read thsi, but my observations are:

1 only provable evidence to be cited

2 remove ALL religious reference

3 challenge anything that isn’t in current civil law (e.g. no requirement for life-long commitment[no divorce allowed], no requirement to spawn)

4 apply the golden mean – is this of benefit to individuals and sociiety – in what way does equal marriage damage this?

5 public ethics, not private morals.

Then look to the roots and evolution of marriage and refute the “traditional” view – marriage used to by polgamic, based on property/alliance, was sometimes same-sex

DON’T expect to win them over, but also don’t fight on their terms: god isn’t in the mix on this, so don’t let them fight on that ground.

I may get to read the screed, but honestly I imagine its intellectual honesty is as sere as sackcloth…

good luck


February 8th, 2011

another area of attack is the form of the argument itself. “What is marriage” begins from the assumption that there is an essentialist answer. That is, George et al. make an essentialist argument that “marriage” has some meaning apart from what we humans give it. This is where they try to sneak in their religious argument without calling it such. They wish to argue that “marriage” *is* something that cannot be changed by people changing the definition. Since they seem focused on penises go naturally into vaginas they extrapolate that “marriage exists naturally as penises (penii?) going into vaginas” Without this appeal to “nature” (aka faith/religion/god) they are left with a tautology: marriage is penis into vagina because penis-in-vagina is what we call marriage.

The fact is “marriage” is a human construct, and a civil, social and legal matter, it is whatever we as humans say it is. It has no “essential” characteristics that cannot be changed by society if we so wish. This rebuttal was brought up by referring to changing the rules of chess or baseball, and ultimately, i don’t think George et al did a very good job of replying.


February 8th, 2011


The tactic of rebuttal on the account that marriage can be whatever society defines it as seems to be to question why the line should be redrawn to only include same-sex couples and not a whole litany of other things people find distasteful or repugnant. A slippery slope argument that is not perhaps the most intellectually rigorous, but is persuasive at a gut level to many members of the public, and that also tends to highlight the divisions amongst GLBTQ advocates.

I actually have some suspicion that this is the true purpose or at least an equal purpose alongside presenting a traditional marriage defense: show that revisionists don’t have a unified vision of what marriage should be (or even if it should be) and do some fearmongering around that to both influence public opinion and divide same-sex marriage advocates.


February 8th, 2011

@Muscat: yes, they seem to think they have the easier position – marriage is one man and one woman, the end. Then they accuse us of saying marriage is whatever we want it to be – 2 men or 2 women or 2 men and 1 woman or one man and a box turtle or two women, and lamppost and a bottle of eggnog.

The truth of course, is that they have unspoken restrictions as well. They don’t believe in *just* “one man one woman” otherwise brothers could marry sisters and fathers could marry daughters, so it’s actually “one man and one unrelated woman.” And since they argue for exclusivity, it’s not “one man one unrelated woman” but one unmarried man and one unmarried unrelated woman.”

Rather than have them always lay the polygamy argument at our doorstep we need to turn it back on them and ask why their “one man one woman” model excludes these other man-woman pairings. This is part of not letting them set the terms of the debate but stating their unspoken assumptions and making them justify them.

David in Houston

February 8th, 2011

I’d really like Robert George to respond to this statement by Supreme Court Justice Scalia, who wrote the dissenting opinion of Lawrence v. Texas: “If moral disapprobation of homosexual conduct is “no legitimate state interest” for purposes of proscribing that conduct…what justification could there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples exercising “the liberty protected by the Constitution”? Surely not the encouragement of procreation, since the sterile and the elderly are allowed to marry.” Even Scalia knew back then, that gay citizens would be entitled to the right to marry if homosexuality were deemed as equally moral as heterosexuality.

Speaking about morality, I noticed that Mr. George’s thesis included the words “moral” and “immoral” thirty times. Why is morality even an issue if marriage is simply the physical bonding of male and female genitalia? The reality is, it’s not that difficult to figure out why those words appear in his thesis so many times. Robert believes that homosexuals are immoral. Knowing this mindset, it tarnishes his entire premise; and puts his entire argument back in the realm of religious beliefs. Those that have been religiously indoctrinated know that homosexuals are immoral and sinners. But as a scholar, Mr. George should know that morality is not determined by a person’s sexual orientation. It wouldn’t take me long to name dozens of immoral heterosexuals. (Does Hitler ring a bell?) But throughout his thesis, he pits the purity of heterosexual sex against the lesser-than homosexual acts, and comes to the conclusion that the sexual union of heterosexuals is SO special, that the status of marriage should only apply to them. The fact that two virtual strangers (man and woman) could meet at the city courthouse and legally marry each other, makes me question the validity of Mr. George’s argument. Sexual intimacy is NOT a requirement to marriage.

Which begs the question, if a senior citizen couple get married and never have sex, is their relationship still a marriage? Legally it is. What if this couple got married simply for companionship? They could love each other, kiss and cuddle on the couch, but aren’t interested in sexual intimacy anymore. So why hasn’t society banned these non-procreative marriages? It wouldn’t be hard to do. Simply pass a law banning anyone under the age of 62 from getting married. So why hasn’t our government, or any of the 50 states done so? Answer: The government and the state have no interest in whether or not a couple EVER procreate (have sex). Mr. George’s argument would be that married senior citizens would make a “good example” to the rest of society, of what a monogamous long-term “married” relationship would look like. I could just as easily make the same argument in support for same-sex marriage. A gay teenager would see that there are gay couples in society that are legally married. Knowing this, the teen would feel as though he were still an integral part of society, even though his sexual orientation is different than most. This would benefit the teen, and society. Relegating people to second-class status because of their sexual orientation does not benefit society. On the contrary, it unnecessarily harms those people, and in turn makes our society less cohesive.

Regarding the specialness of man/woman intimacy. The animal kingdom also takes part in these “special unions” every single day. It’s called mating. But apparently, when a man and woman have sexual intercourse, it ascends to a higher plain to something more… spiritual perhaps? Again, bringing it right back into the realm of religion. The problem with Mr. George’s argument is that he eliminated love, intimacy and passion from the marriage equation so gay couples wouldn’t be able to qualify. But in doing so, he also destroys the “special union” that opposite-sex couples have when they’re intimate. You might as well argue that when a man pays a prostitute to have sex with him, their physical bond is so inherently special, that society should honor it with the right to marry. In fact, the man could actually marry the prostitute, if they both agreed to do so.

Ben in Oakland

February 8th, 2011

Rob– good idea to take this on. I hope I have some time to write in the next day or two.

From my preliminary perusal, I can make a couple of quick comments. First, the minute one goes on to natural law as a justification for anything, the further you get away from actual natural law. In the realm of what we know, Natural law appears to BE law only when it is applied to basic physical and chemical laws. They are as rigid as they can be, even within the realms of quantum mechanics, the very realm of uncertainty. As you go up the scale from the physical sciences into life sciences, natural law becomes less and less rigid, and more and more a matter of statistics. when you enter the realm of the social sciences, data variation is huge, and the only real laws are statistical in nature. You cannot predict the outcome of any interaction, only the statistical likelihood of a number of outcomes.

A second big point is the confusion of ‘natural law” whatever that may be, with morality. Someone once told me this is something like slavery in the US – the laws permitted slavery, but slavery is clearly immoral, and thus the laws permitting slavery were not true laws at all. this what George would probably say, except that it lacks any kind of historical perspective. Slavery was not just supported by the Constitution. It was supported for hundreds of years by large numbers of churches, a number of Christian nations (Spain, Portugal, Brazil, England, France, and the good old US of A) and large numbers of church-going individuals as God’s will. Likewise, the burning of witches. Likewise, the Inquisition. All OK according to the laws of God and man, so we were told.

I acknowledge that there is a law according to the nature of things. The laws of physics, chemistry, biology, you name it. But human laws are not natural laws in that sense. Natural is a word applied to them in an attempt to make them not what they clearly are– human inventions. Homophobia and prejudice and bigotry have no genetic basis, and are also not a part of natural law, but they are a part of nature. Human nature.

There is no homosexual gene, true. But there is no heterosexual gene, either. This is where George is using “natural” to mean “this is what I think and it seems right to me.” It is natural to think that the world is flat, but it isn’t. Homosexuality is natural, and it has always existed in every culture and every time.

Despite overwhelming scientific evidence that homosexuality is an inborn as heterosexuality, despite the testimony of tens of thousands– if not millions– of gay people, despite the simple logic of “who would choose this”, George believes that homosexuality is a choice– an immoral one that should get no legal support. His beliefs about us are more important than any amount of actual evidence– natural evidence.

A moralizing moralist said this to me: “Either you are going to acknowledge that there is a law according to the nature of things, or you are going to be a legal positivist which leads to the conclusion that slavery is okay, or abortion on demand is okay, or gay marriage is okay, or discrimination against and imprisonment of people of Catholic or Mormon faith for speaking and living their beliefs is okay simply because the laws say it is.”

This is a false dichotomy, irrelevant and illogical. I don’t have to be a religionist to know that slavery is wrong, or discrimination is wrong. I can be a perfectly moral human being without religion to tell me what is right and wrong. And as far as I can tell, if I relied on religion to tell me that, I would be most immoral indeed. In the immortal words of Mammy Yokum (and yes, I’m showing my age): “Good is better than evil because it’s nicer.’

Very little is black and white. Abortion is a good example here. I’m not fond of it. To me, the moral position is not to eliminate abortion, but to eliminate the need for it. Equally immoral is people bringing more people into the world when they neither want them nor can provide for them. Immoral is back alley abortions that occur because legal abortion is not available. Women pay the price. Immoral is spending literally billions of dollars to rob women of that choice, yet somehow never actually doing anything about abortion. The anti-abortion industry, like the anti-ex-gay industry, is a major cash and power cow for the religious right. How many children died in Darfur while the Mormon church was fighting my civil marriage? how many children could have been fed and immunized for that money on an issue which has absolutely no effect on any Mormon’s ability to worship and believe as he chooses? How many abortions could have been avoided if the Religious right and the catholic church supported birth control? How many could have been avoided if these so called defenders of right said simply, and put up the money for it: “don’t have an abortion. We’ll take care of you and your medical expenses, and make sure your baby is adopted into a loving home. except not the gay ones, of course. Those children are better of as products of abortion.”

Mr George, do you really want to talk about immorality? I don’t think you have a moral leg to stand on.

Here’s some natural law, some morality for you, and you can decide which is worse. I’m sick to death that the course of my life, and my happiness, and those of millions of people just like me, can be subject to your prejudices, whether or you prefer to call them your religious beliefs or just admit them for what they are. I am equally sick that gay people are imprisoned, attacked, murdered, executed, used as political fodder, vilified, condemned, persecuted, jailed, slandered, libeled, and accused of all sort of things that are simply NOT TRUE because someone doesn’t approve, or believes their God does not approve. What about the immorality of what is done to gay people every day in many parts of the world to satisfy that belief?

As I wrote earlier: “Homophobia and prejudice and bigotry have no genetic basis, and are also not a part of natural law, but they are a part of nature. Human nature.”

That doesn’t make them right. It just makes them sad.


February 8th, 2011

Good for you, Rob, for taking this on. I look forward to reading your take on it.

Priya Lynn

February 8th, 2011

Further to Desiree’s post:

George said that any premise that allows for same sex marriage necessarily includes polygamous and incestuous marriages. The same is true for what he says is necessary for a relationship to be marriage. An incestous opposite sex relationship qualifies as marriage under his definition and yet he offers no reason to disqualify such marriages from his premise. He could say because such relationships may suffer from birth defects but then he’d have no objection to an incestous relationship that if infertile.

He says polyamours marriages wouldn’t qualify under his premise because 3 people can’t have an “organic body union” (penis-vagina sex) at the same time. That’s a laughably weak reason to justify excluding polyamorous marriages.

His premise necessarily includes incestuous and polyamourous marriages but the justification for same sex marriage does not necessarily include them. Polyamorous marriages are much more complicated to maintain then two person marriages, if one partner is sick and the other two disagree on treatment, who decides? Polyamorous marriages normally take the form of one husband many wives, thus creating a shortage of marriageable women in the local community that has historically seen young males shoved out of their communities. Polygamous marriages are often rife with domestic abuse and underage forceable marriage of teenagers.

Beyond the possibility of birth defects, incestuous marriages involve partners that can’t give informed consent due to the undue influence that is usually involved in growing up with a sibling or parent.

Ben in Oakland

February 8th, 2011


another way to put it is this. Whatever the reasons there are to oppose polygamy, incest, or underage wives in marriages did not suddenly cease to exist becaase gay marriage is on the table.

what were the reasons to oppose incestuous marriages? Did those change at some point?

no, they still exists. as does the only reason to oppose gay marriage– because people lie mr. Geroge don’t like it.

Ben in Oakland

February 8th, 2011

Here are two more reasons to oppose incest.

If you divorce, family reunions are going to be very awkward.

As I said to a guy who asked why he oculdn’t marry his brother, “I gotta warn you. After marriage, the sex stops.’

David in Houston

February 8th, 2011

Priya and Ben are exactly right. The issues of polygamous and incestuous marriage didn’t suddenly appear because same-sex marriage became a reality. They always existed. 50 years ago, interracial marriage didn’t exist in our country. So why didn’t polygamy get legalized when interracial marriage became a reality? It’s because one has absolutely nothing to do with the other. I have yet to hear a single person or group demand the right to polygamous marriage. Regarding interracial marriage, society (or namely the Supreme Court) righted a social wrong. Just like now, state Supreme Courts are righting a social wrong regarding same-sex marriage.

Priya Lynn

February 8th, 2011

Ben and David, further to that:

“Because we don’t allow gay marriage” is not a valid reason to oppose polygamous or incestuous marriages but that’s the logic the anti-gays are relying on when they give these slippery slope arguments. If the only reason they have to deny gay marriage is that they think that justifies denying polygamous and incestuous marriages then they’ve never had a reason for denying those marriages – I’m sure they wouldn’t agree that that’s the case.


February 8th, 2011

rereading George’s paper I realize that it can be summed up as such: Penis->vagina therefore marriage.

Priya Lynn

February 8th, 2011

George ends his essay by stating that he’s made a case for banning gay marriage without appeals to revelation or religious authority of any type. That’s not the case. He refers to “moral unions” “the moral truth about marriage” and immorality several times (30 by a previous commenter’s count) yet he never defines what determines the morality or immorality of the concepts he’s talking about. That’s because it’s his religion that motivates his stand agains same sex marriages and the entire essay is an exercise in finding a technicality, an excuse to justify his religious beliefs that doesn’t appear religious.

He previously says that a major reason to oppose same sex marriages is that it will harm people’s religious freedom to discriminate and demean gays. Once again, he’s made an appeal to religion to justify opposing same sex marriage, so much for his “I didn’t appeal to religion” schtick.

The best he’s got is that a marriage an “organic body union” which means a physical union that has a purpose. He says the only thing that qualifies is procreative sex and denies that pleasure can be a fulfilling purpose for a body union because “pleasure can be involved in sadism”. That’s not a valid justification for excluding pleasure because while sadism can be a destructive pleasure that does not mean that all pleasure from sex is destructive, much of it, including gay sex is productive in that it encourages people to value and care for each other.

The same argument can also be made for procreative style penis/vagina sex not necessarily fullfiling a positive goal. Rape is a style of procreative sex and few would say that is fullfilling a postive goal. If the existence of sadism means pleasure isn’t a valid reason for a bodily union then the presence of rape means procreative style sex isn’t a valid reason for a bodily union either.

George contradicts himself throughout this essay. He makes the point that procreation and child rearing are key components of marriage and its reason for being but then later admits marriage is not a means to the goal of having children but an end in itself worthwhile for its own sake. I strongly agree.

George says that allowing gay marriage would destroy people’s beliefs about marriage being about raising children but then says infertile couples live out the features and norms of real marriage thereby contributing to a healthy marriage culture. The same can be said about childless gay couples.

George says that infertile couples are allowed to marry does not mean its discrimination to ban gay marriage because infertile couple’s “bodily unions” are oriented towards procreation even if they can’t have children. That’s absurd on the face of it. Back when I had a penis my girlfriend and I decided to marry. We both agreed we never wanted children and I had a vasectomy before we married. To say our bodily union or marriage was “oriented” to procreation is utter nonsense as is the case with many couples who decide they never want children but are allowed to marry anyway.

Anti-gays make a big deal about marriage being designed for procreationa and raising children and say this justifies denying it to gays. Yet many gay couples have children and if the anti-gays were sincere in their assertions they would want to have gays married for the sake of their children. Ultimately the needs of children don’t matter to them because they make it about the importance of the technicality of how children are normally conceived than actually about benefitting the real life children that heterosexuals and gays often have. They’ve made the rules more important than the results they claim the rules are intended to achieve. It doesn’t get much more disingenous than that.

Georges says non-sexual unions can’t be marriagtes because marriage requires a comprehensive physical union (that he unjustifiably says must be penis/vagina sex). Once again, marriage as it is currently sanctioned does not support that idea. Couples are allowed to remain married whether or not they have sex. Although at one time sexual consummation of marriage was in some cases considered necessary that is rarely the case nowadays in most western jurisdictions.

George quotes a few LGBTS advocating polyamoury, nonmongamous marriages, and radically redefining marriage and says allowing gays to marry will set the example that marriage isn’t about two monogamous people. There are a number of problems with this.

First there have always been a number of heterosexuals advocating the same thing and yet George expresses no fear that allowing heterosexuals to marry will set the example that marriage isn’t about two monogamous people. That’s because in neither case do the extremists adocating for radical change represent what the majority of gays or straights would do despite George’s dishonest attempts to portray the desires of a few as the desires of all.

Secondly, as the anti-gays like to point out gays represent a small percentage of the population and gay marriages would represent a very small, perhaps a few percent, of all marriages. The idea that something that is rarely seen is going to change people’s perception of the typical hetero marriage they see over and over and over is preposterous. If it weren’t for all the loud opposition to equal marriage gay marriages would be allowed, happening rarely and going virtually unnoticed.

Third, even if no gay couples had children (something that does not happen) they idea that they change people’s impression of marriage as a vehicle for raising children is no more valid than the idea that infertile or intentionally childless heteros also destroy people’s impression of marriage as a child rearing vehicle.

If 19 out of 20 times the marriage a child sees involves a hetero couple having children the idea that they other 1 in 20 marriages involving a childless hetero couple or gay couple will change the child’s vision of marriage is preposterous. In the vast majority of cases marriage will continue to be what the homophobes want and that will form the basis for what the vast majority of people think a marriage is to be for them.

Finally, many gays do have children and allowing them to marry fits in perfectly well with the homophobe’s desires to have example marriages that emphasize children. Preventing couples with children from marrying does exactly what they claim they’re against, disassociating marriage from raising children.

Once again, the anti-gays go on and on and on about how marriage is about procreation and raising children, but when they have an opportunity to provide the benefits of married parents to more children they put their foot down and scream “NO!”. What a tragic hatefilled attack on the good of humanity it is.

Priya Lynn

February 8th, 2011

Desiree said “rereading George’s paper I realize that it can be summed up as such: Penis->vagina therefore marriage.”.

That’s the technicality I referred to that George sought out to justify his religiously motivated desire to deny marriage to lesbian and gays. He then goes into some tortured logic attempting to show how restricting marriage to penis/vagina is about the good of society, but ultimately if the good of society is the goal of marriage there can be no justification for denying it to gay couples and the children they often have.

Ultimately marriage is about making a statement that the person you are marrying is the most important relationship in your life. Its about designating them as decision maker in the case of your incpacitation, your beneficiary, the one person you are committed to ahead of all others. This normally involves romantic/sexual relationships because those things usually make for a stronger and deeper bond between two people than two friends or two sisters would have. That’s why when a spouse dies their beneficiary is by default the surving spouse and not a parent or sibling.

The marriage of two people in a romantic relationship is assumed to have permanence because deep emotional and romantic bonds don’t turn on and off on whims. While some friendships or sibling relationships may be stronger than some marriages, married romantic relationships in general are the strongest ties of all. George says LGBTs won’t define what marriage is, but I have no problem with that:

Marriage is a committent to another person as the most important relationship in your life which is usually a romantic/sexual relationship due to the additional bond that provides and may involve raising children.

Ben in Oakland

February 8th, 2011

God i wish I had some time to write, but many of you are touching on the points that are obvuiously falalcious and self serving.

Priya Lynn

February 8th, 2011

One other thing I forgot to mention:

George in talking about the “religious persecution” people allegedly experienced as a result of marriage equality in Massachusetts brought up Catholic charities and repeated the lie that they were forced to close down their adoption services rather than adopt to gay couples. The Catholic church could have continued to run their adoption service while excluding gays just as the Mormons do to this day but they were getting a government subsidy to do so and the governement decided they couldn’t get the subsidy if they wanted to discrminate. Catholic charities decided that if they couldn’t suck on the government teat they wouldn’t run their adoption service at all. They closed their adoption serice by choice, not because anyone forced them to.

George and his buddies display their underlying dishonesty by repeating the lie about Catholic adoption services in Massachusetts. They were also dishonest about claiming children do best with a biological father and mother when in fact many, many studies have shown children of gay parents do just as well, if not better, than children of heterosexuals. I can tell from they way they described the research they referred to it was research comparing intact heterosexual couples to single parent families rather than to two parent gay families –
a typical dishonest tactic of anti-gay religionists.

Rob Tisinai

February 8th, 2011

Hey Priya,

Great comments–except that you’re stealing some of the thunder from my later posts!

One correction, though. Public money wasn’t the main factor in the Catholic Charities case. Even if they weren’t taking money, they still wouldn’t have been able to hold their license in the state of MA if they discriminated against married same-sex couples. It would have been a violation of state law.

I found this out by spending a couple hours on the phone bouncing from state agency to state agency (state employees really don’t want to talk about the case!). And at that time, LDS was in trouble and under investigation because they only wanted to work with LDS couples, another violation of MA state discrimination law.

That was about a year ago. I don’t know how it’s all been resolved.

Priya Lynn

February 8th, 2011

Rob, the information I’ve got says it was entirely about public money:

From the Los Angelos Times:

“Take the story of Catholic Charities. The service arm of the Roman Catholic Church closed its adoption program in Massachusetts not because of the state’s gay marriage law but because of a gay anti-discrimination law passed many years earlier. In fact, the charity had voluntarily placed older foster children in gay and lesbian households — among those most willing to take hard-to-place children — until the church hierarchy was alerted and demanded that adoptions conform to the church’s religious teaching, which was in conflict with state law. The Proposition 8 campaign, funded in large part by Mormons who were urged to do so by their church, does not mention that the Mormon church’s adoption arm in Massachusetts is still operating, even though it does not place children in gay and lesbian households.

How can this be? It’s a matter of public accountability, not infringement on religion. Catholic Charities acted as a state contractor, receiving state and federal money to find homes for special-needs children who were wards of the state, and it faced the loss of public funding if it did not comply with the anti-discrimination law. In contrast, LDS (for Latter-day Saints) Family Services runs a private adoption service without public funding. Its work, and its ability to follow its religious teachings, have not been altered.”

From a Mormon legal organization:

“Catholic Charities voluntarily ceased providing adoption service in Massachusetts. According to the Boston Globe, Catholic Charities elected to close its doors in protest over the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts and because it was reluctant to undertake a lawsuit that might be lost.

LDS Family Services still operates in Massachusetts, as it does in California. There are several differences between LDSFS and Catholic Charities. LDSFS does not take federal or state funds; Catholic Charities does. LDSFS facilitates only voluntary adoptions and permits the birth mother to approve the adoptive parents. Catholic Charities handled non-voluntary adoptions (where the state seizes the children) and normally did not accommodate birth mother approval. Catholic Charities had contracts with the state and was, in effect, acting as an agent of the state. LDSFS does not. To date, LDS Family Services has never been forced to place any children with a gay couple, and has never been sued for not doing so.”

Ben in Oakland

February 8th, 2011

Rob- I seem to remember that the mormons are freee to discriminate in this matter because they don’t take any public money.

Ben in Oakland

February 8th, 2011

Priya– much the same story appeared in the boston Globe, though I don’t have the citation for it. but i used it when I was doing some writing on the subject.

Priya Lynn

February 8th, 2011

Ben, I try to keep copies of such stories on my hard drive for later reference. Right now I’ve just got the links, I really should get around to copying the entire articles in case the links go bad.

Rob Tisinai

February 8th, 2011

Hey Priya, thanks for the references. I’m always inclined to put my own research ahead of what reporters tell me, but I should look into it again. If you’re right, it’ll allow me to remove the correction from the 2:20 mark of one of my first videos:


February 9th, 2011

I have to agree that this “organic bodily union” thing is the key thing to refute. It points to the Biblical “one flesh” concept (Genesis 2:24 and others) and notions of ecstatic effects of religious sacraments. I think it’s so dodgy that it has to be theologically problematic. There’s probably a historical Christian heresy whose error or problem in principle is recapitulated by OBU. That would be deadlier to George than any refutation on secular grounds.

Politically the argument has some efficacy because many undistinguished people wish or imagine teleology- Divine Purpose- to apply to their procreative activities. Usually it takes mentally ill, failing, or heretical children and grandchildren to fully disabuse them of this vanity. That may need to be pointed out.

There is positive opportunity in arguing against this proposal, too. I think arriving at a clarified and superior positive definition of marriage which the likes of George can’t really overcome would be a wonderful conclusion. I see a lot of good attempts and pieces of a such a definition listed here. The hard part is figuring out how many and precisely what elements that definition would have to contain to be useful and defensible. (My guess is a description of the form, a description of the operational essence, and a principle linking the two would be the minimal parts.)


February 9th, 2011

Who runs “”?

To avoid traps, I would encourage those who might engage to read the amicus brief filed by George and Gergis for the Prop8 appeal.

It is possible that part of the reason for writing this piece now is that they are anxious to lower the burden on the defense (or making it possible for judges to do so)…


February 9th, 2011

noted in passing: George secured funding from the Bush administration … your tax dollars may have gone into funding this kind of attack on your civil rights.


February 9th, 2011

John Corvino:


February 9th, 2011

well, now there’s an illogical idea (do the anti-gay crowd have any other kind?)

gay people are having sex with other gay people and thus can’t procreate and yet, this intellectual heavyweight wants to neuter is, presumably, so we can’t procreate. Seems a little… misplaced? Am I missing something?

(apologies for feeding the troll, but wow, not even a good troll…)

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