State by state, cantankerous debates about same-sex marriage continue to capture headlines. The outcome of these debates has not only changed the political landscape in United States but has also impacted public policy and legal theory. However, the same-sex marriage debate raises a more fundamental philosophical question—why is the state involved in marriage in the first place? I argue that the best answer to this question is that marriage plays a vital role in modern Western democracies. The right of marriage stems from its social function of habituating the character traits that are essential to effective democratic citizenship.
The standard liberal justification of same-sex marriage is fundamentally flawed since it is precluded from discussing the “good” of marriage. In their article “What is Marriage?”, Robert George, Sherif Girgis, and Ryan Anderson exploit this weakness. After demonstrating the inconsistencies of the standard liberal justification, George, Girgis, and Anderson offer their own conception of marriage which inherently precludes same-sex couples.
After examining their argument against gay marriage, I argue that it is rooted in an untenable notion of what is essential to marriage. By utilizing judgmental liberalism, a slight alteration of neutral liberalism, I answer George, Girgis, and Anderson’s objections to same-sex marriage. The state ought to encourage same-sex marriage because marriage, at its core, is about fostering fidelity, monogamy, and lasting stable relationships. Because this social function applies equally to homosexual and heterosexual couples alike, gay marriage ought to be permitted and promoted.