Politics professor and constitutional scholar Robert George stepped out of the ivory tower and into the national spotlight recently, organizing a joint statement by religious leaders in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
The statement, George hopes, will help to revive national interest in the issue of same-sex marriage, as the Senate gears up to vote on the issue next month.
"The idea of a joint religious leaders statement emerged from conversations I have had with people of many faiths," George said in an email. "My thought is that the leaders and members of these communities do well to speak with a united voice on the nature, meaning and value of marriage."
George, also director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, has been active on the issue of same-sex marriage since the early 1990s.
"The conjugal conception of marriage as the exclusive monogamous union of sexually complementary spouses need not be defended on theological grounds," George said. "Yet many religious communities affirm the conjugal conception and believe (rightly, in my view) that the neutrality of law and public policy with respect to it is neither desirable nor, strictly speaking, possible."
George helped to draft the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, which defines marriage as "the union of a man and a woman." For the amendment to be ratified, it would require the support of two-thirds of each house of Congress and three-fourths of the 50 state legislatures. The U.S. Senate plans to vote on the amendment in June.
Seventeen officials of the Roman Catholic Church have signed the joint statement, including both liberal and conservative members of the United States Bishop's Conference.
George said that though involvement from both sides of the Catholic Church is impressive, the widespread support among leaders of so many faiths is "even more remarkable." Signers of the petition include rabbis, Mormons, evangelical Protestants, Southern Baptists and members of the Church of God in Christ, among others.
George's involvement in the petition also raises the issue of professors becoming involved in activism outside of the University community. George is not alone in this regard, as, for example, religion professor Cornel West GS '80 and Wilson School professor Paul Krugman have been vocal activists in the past.
"I don't think [being an activist] is a necessary role, but I think it is a role professors can opt to play, if they so choose," West said. "I admire professor George's willingness to enter the larger public, though I might fight him tooth-and-nail on the issues."
The issue of same-sex marriage came to national prominence in November of 2003, when the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples are allowed to marry under the state constitution. During the 2004 election, proposed amendments to state constitutions drew conservative voters to the polls in swing states like Ohio. All 11 anti-gay marriage amendments passed.
"The conjugal conception consistently wins by solid majorities when put to a vote, even in liberal states like California and heavily secular states such as Oregon. That's why its opponents have focused their efforts on the courts," George said.
He admits, however, that his stance is not universally accepted. "There are sectors of the culture in which they have made great progress," he said. "Even some religious communities now reject the conjugal conception. They have adopted the conception embodied in the slogan 'love makes a family.'"
"I don't believe that this means that those of us who defend the conjugal conception of marriage are bound to lose," he added. "But I don't think that victory is inevitable, either."
The majority of the University, too, may not share George's views. Last December, the USG signed on to an amicus brief in support of same-sex marriage, after 51.6 percent of students voted in favor of doing so.
"Obviously I strongly disagree with Professor George, and it saddens me that someone with his intellectual ability uses his talents to ensure that a portion of Americans remain second-class citizens who are denied some basic rights," Luca Nagy '07, co-president of the Pride Alliance, said in an email.
"His position as a Princeton University professor adds weight to his opinion, and he should be careful what he uses this advantage for, but he has the right to do so," she added.
George said such criticism is unavoidable, but it does not deter him from expressing his views. "There are thoughtful and articulate people who argue that fairness and respect for liberty and equality require us to shift to a different conception, one that would recognize same-sex unions and possibly polyamorous and polygamous unions as legal ("civil") marriages," he said.
"I don't find their arguments about marriage and sexual morality to be persuasive, but they are not persuaded by mine. It is entirely possible that they will prevail in the political debate. It could go either way."
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