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Contemporary Thinkers Attempt to Define Marriage

In his book The Future of Marriage , David Blankenhorn has culled the following contemporary attempts to define marriage:

  • "Marriage is, more than anything else, the expression of love" (George Easterbrook of the New Republic).
  • "The essence of a good marriage is not breeding [i.e. having children] or even romantic love … [but] a unique and profound friendship" (Andrew Sullivan).
  • "Now marriage is seen by most people as love, intimacy, happiness" (Barbara Risman, professor of sociology at the University of Illinois Chicago).
  • "The real nature of marriage" is a commitment "between two people to take on special obligations to one another" (from the editors of the Economist).
  • "A marriage is a private arrangement between parties committed to love" (Crispan Sartwell, syndicated columnist).
  • "To 'marry' means to join together in a close personal commitment … [that] is intended to be permanent" (Judge William L. Downing, superior court judge for the state of Washington).
  • "Marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family" (Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts).
  • Marriage is "a unique expression of a private bond between a couple" (Justice Doris Ling-Cohen, Supreme Court of the State of New York).

For a number of reasons, Blankenhorn calls these (and most contemporary definitions of marriage) "radically insubstantial." First, they fail to clarify that marriage is between one man and one woman. Secondly, Blankenhorn also writes, "One searches in vain for any recognition of the fact that marriage might be something more than a private close relationship between two people." Third. he also notes that there's something glaringly absent from these "private" and "personal" definitions of marriage—children. "Marriage and children are now basically disconnected," he writes, "with marriage as a close personal relationship over here and children's well-being as a social priority over there. Does any child out there really want to sign on to this proposition?"

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