Ryan T. Anderson is the William E. Simon Fellow at the Heritage Foundation and the editor of Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute.
According to the foundation's website, Anderson has expertise in bioethics and natural law theory and researches and writes about marriage and religious liberty. His current focus is on constitutional questions surrounding same-sex marriage, the foundation said, and he co-authored the book “What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense” with Princeton’s Robert P. George and Sherif Girgis.
In March, Anderson spoke at a Marriage Summit hosted by Brigham Young University's J. Rueben Clark Law School and also sat down with the Deseret News National edition to discuss marriage and ongoing efforts to redefine it.
Deseret News: What is the difference between the conjugal view and revisionist view of marriage?
Ryan T. Anderson: The conjugal view is really the view that has informed most of Western history and culture up until just yesterday, it seems. This is the view in which marriage is about uniting a man and woman comprehensively in hearts, minds and souls and bodies and that the act that unites a man and woman as husband and wife is the same act that can create new life. And marriage is about uniting that man (and) that woman as husband and wife to then be mother and father to any children that that act might create.
The revisionist view is really one in which marriage is mainly about adult romance. It’s about an intense emotional union that any two adults can form regardless of their sexual complementarity, and children are seen as an optional add-on if the couple chooses to have children. And if they don’t, that’s fine because the idea is that it’s more about adult romance than about the needs of the children.
DN: So, in a country that’s based on the separation of church and state, isn’t the conjugal view actually based on religious beliefs?
RA: It’s based on religious beliefs; it’s also based on human anthropology; it’s based on sound philosophy; it’s based on good social science. I see no conflict here between faith and reason. So it’s true that the Judeo-Christian tradition views marriage in this way, but so too did the ancient Greeks and the ancient Romans; so too did enlightenment philosophers like John Locke and Emmanuel Kant; so too did Eastern thinkers like Gandhi. What this suggests to me and my co-authors is that there’s something about this understanding of marriage that is a near human universal. And so it doesn’t violate religious liberty or the (First Amendment) establishment clause at all to say that the government needs to be in the marriage business, not because it cares about the romance of consenting adults, but because it wants to make sure that children have (a) mom and a dad — and marriage is the way that you achieve that.
KSL: What about couples that are infertile? What does marriage mean to them?
RA: Not every marriage will produce a child, but every child has a mother and a father, and marriage is the institution that’s going to most maximize the likelihood that every child is born into a relationship with a committed mother and father. That’s why the state cares about marriage.
DN: There are plenty of examples of heterosexual parents who have failed in the parenting department. So really what’s the harm in a same-sex couple having children?
RA: What redefining marriage does is it sends the signal that a child need not even have as an ideal a mother and a father. It really eliminates from public policy any institution that exists to say that mothering and fathering are distinct and complementary and that children deserve both a mom and a dad. Redefining marriage to make it a genderless institution says that men and women are interchangeable; moms and dads are interchangeable as well.
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