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The Meaning of Marriage (Part 2 of 2)

3/22/2006 - 5:00 AM PST

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Interview With Princeton's Robert George

PRINCETON, New Jersey, MARCH 22, 2006 (Zenit) - Proponents of same-sex "marriage" often claim that allowing same-sex couples to marry cannot possibly harm anyone else's marriage, as the relationship is distinctly private.

This argument prompted scholars from across the disciplines to gather together to offer distinctly "public reasons" for the preservation of the institution of marriage as a male-female union.

Their results have been gathered into a new book, "The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market and Morals", co-edited by Robert P. George and Jean Bethke Elshtain.

George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University and serves on President George Bush's Council on Bioethics.

The scholar shared with us why the ability to choose and meaningfully participate in marriage is dependent upon legal and cultural institutions that support that choice.

Part 1 of this interview appeared Monday on Catholic Online.

Q: You describe the good of marriage as a "one-flesh communion of persons." Is that a distinctly religious concept?

George: No. The intrinsic value of marriage, understood as a comprehensive, multilevel sharing of life founded upon the bodily communion of sexually complementary spouses and naturally ordered to procreation and the upbringing of children, can be grasped, and has been grasped, by people of different faiths and by those of no particular faith.

The teachings of most, if not all, religions extend to marriage in one way or another, but the good of marriage can be known, and is known, by reason, even when unaided by revelation.

Even when it comes to providing a critical reflective account of marriage, John Finnis has made the point that the greatest philosophers of ancient Greece and jurists of pre-Christian Rome were able to articulate the foundations of a sound understanding of this great human good.

Of course, the language of "one-flesh union" derives from the Hebrew Bible and is powerfully reaffirmed by Jesus in the Gospels. For Jews and Christians, revelation reinforces and illuminates a great truth of natural law.

Q: Section 1652 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "By its very nature, the institution of marriage and married love is ordered toward the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory." The Catechism thus appears to describe marriage in purely instrumental terms. Can you clarify how your position is consistent?

George: Sure. I have already remarked that married love and the institution of marriage are naturally ordered toward procreation and the upbringing of children.

But this is not to say that children are extrinsic ends to which marital union, in its sexual dimension or otherwise, is a mere means. "Ordered toward" does not mean "is merely a means to."

Perhaps the best evidence that the Church recognizes the intrinsic value of marriage and does not treat it merely as a means to procreation is her clear and unwavering teaching that people can have reason to marry, and may legitimately marry, and can be fully and truly married, even when the infertility of one or both spouses renders procreation impossible for them.

Marriages of infertile spouses are true marriages. They are not pseudo-marriages. They are not second-class marriages.

Because human beings are constituted as they are, thus constituting the human good as it is, it is intrinsically fulfilling for men and women to unite in a form of communion apt for -- "ordered toward" -- procreation and the upbringing of children even where, in their particular case, they will not be able to conceive or rear children.

Spouses truly become "one flesh" in their marital intercourse even when temporary or permanent infertility means that conception will not take place. It is worth noting that for Jews and Christians marriages are consummated by completed sexual intercourse, not by achieving the conception of a child.

However, nothing in the affirmation of this great truth contradicts the equally great truth that children conceived as the fruit of marital communion are indeed the "crowning glory" of marital love.

Children are not operational objectives of the sexual union of spouses or of the institution of marriage; rather, they, are gifts supervening on marital love to be welcomed and cherished as perfective participants in the community -- the family -- established by their parents' marital communion.

Q: Does the Church's recognition of the validity of infertile marriages contradict its teaching that marriage is ...

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