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Anderson defends traditional marriage


“Let me start, as any a good conservative should start, by turning back the clock 50 years,” Dr. Ryan Anderson ’04 said. 

Anderson is the William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow in American Principles and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation, editor of “Public Discourse,” the online journal for The Witherspoon Institute, and co-author of “What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense.” He graduated from Princeton University with a Bachelor of Arts in music and holds a doctoral degree in political philosophy from the University of Notre Dame.


50 years ago, according to Anderson, births to single mothers were in the single digits across the general American population. They have now reached about 40 percent.

“Gays and lesbians are not to blame” for this rise, stated Anderson.

Rather, it was the rise of a “sexual revolution” and a redefinition of marriage that has resulted in family fragmentation, and it was the revolutionary idea that love makes a family which has allowed for the emergence and permanence of this redefinition of marriage.

Anderson attempted to exchange this definition for another he, politics professor Robert George, and Sherif Girgis argue for in their book, “What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense.”

“Marriage is a comprehensive unity…. It is comprehensive in the action spouses engage in, it is comprehensive in the good that spouses are ordered towards, and it is comprehensive in the commitment that spouses make to each other,” Anderson argued.

He further illustrates the difference between the completeness of our own functional bodies and the incompleteness of our roles as creators of new human life. The same way in which academic institutions are ordered towards the good of truth-seeking, marital institutions are ordered toward the good of creating and raising children that we as individuals cannot do alone.


Marriage, according to this definition, becomes a “civic project” that requires commitments from individuals most other ordinary relationships do not. It is when these commitments are not made that there are social costs, such as those of single-parent households, according to Anderson.

“Marriage as a public policy matter exists to unite a man and a woman permanently and exclusively as husband and wife to then become mother and father to any children that that union might produce," Anderson said.

There are truths or realities marriage is based on, including that man and woman are biologically different and complementary to one another and that a child needs both parents to thrive, he further argued. According to Anderson, it is only through marriage that individuals are incentivized to direct their emotions toward monogamous relationships centered towards cooperatively raising a child.

“Gender differentiated parenting is important,” Anderson noted, as he emphasized each gender’s role and “competitive advantage” when it came time to instill certain characteristics in children, referring to a mother’s disadvantage when it came to holding her son in a friendly headlock.

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Furthermore, a father’s job for his daughter is “helping helps her navigate into being a woman and protecting her from some of the complications of sexuality,” he added.

Anderson engaged the crowd by quoting former President Barack Obama’s 2008 Father's Day speech in which Obama said, “We know the statistics, children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crimes, nine times more likely to drop out of school and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems or run away from home or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.” Anderson facetiously asked the audience which “right-wing nut job” that quote came from, only to reveal that it was indeed Democrat President Barack Obama.

Anderson noted that “government is in the marriage business.” He explained that when government is not involved, the creation of fragmented families and other social costs follow.

Anderson warned students that there is no “logical reasoning why the redefinition of marriage can stop here [once sexual complementary marriage becomes unnecessary].” He built off of that logic to pose the question of what, if sexual complementary marriages are no longer necessary, then stops the rise of “throuples” — unions made up of three individuals or “wedleases” — temporary marriages.

These kinds of relationships lead to societies in which children are born with essentially uncommitted parents, one that has failed to complete its job, Anderson argued, as his definition of marriage is a union built to consummate in the creation and raising of a child.

Anderson concluded that once one concludes that the “male and female” part of marriage doesn't matter and is arbitrary or irrational, there is essentially no legal basis for commitment and monogamy. This, according to Anderson, is underlined by the failure of the government to help push citizens toward the creation of a complete, successful society.

The lecture, titled “Marriage: What It Is, Why It Matters, and the Consequences of Redefining It," was hosted by the Princeton chapter of the Elizabeth Anscombe Society on Tuesday, April 11 in 28 McCosh Hall at 4:30 p.m.