SALT LAKE — Princeton University professor Robert P. George, once dubbed by the New York Times as “this country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker,” spoke to Utah leaders and students about the importance of protecting traditional marriage at a dinner hosted by the Sutherland Institute on Tuesday and a lecture at Brigham Young University’s Wheatley Institution on Wednesday.

George emphasized the biologically intact family as an indispensable pillar of a decent society.

“The family based on the marital commitment between husband and wife is the original and best Department of Health, Education and Welfare," George said. "No government alternative can match it.”

George said every institution in a free society depends upon the character and values inculcated best in the family.

At the Sutherland dinner, George was introduced by Matthew Holland, president of Utah Valley University. Holland recalled with fondness George’s friendship and guidance when Holland was a James Madison Fellow at Princeton in 2005.

The Sutherland Institute is a Utah-based think tank dedicated to “protecting the cause of freedom” and “constructively influencing Utah’s decision makers.” Among those attending Tuesday’s dinner were Gov. Gary Herbert, Utah State Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, state senators Stuart Adams, R-Layton, and Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, as well as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve and Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Seventy from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

At the Wheatley Institution, George lectured to a standing-room-only crowd about his recent book, “What is Marriage” (Encounter Books), with co-authors Sherif Girgis and Ryan T. Anderson. Their book argues that the definition of marriage as a permanent, conjugal union between a man and woman is a historical, transcultural consensus rooted in logic and reason to meet, with unique effectiveness, the challenges posed by procreation and child-rearing.

The Wheatley Institution is a center for scholarly discourse at BYU that seeks to preserve and strengthen society’s core institutions.

The grandson of immigrant coal miners, George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, director of the James Madison Program at Princeton University and a member of the editorial advisory board of the Deseret News.