The Contested Place of Religion in Family Life (Cambridge University Press 2017)
49 Pages Posted: 11 May 2017 Last revised: 13 May 2017
Date Written: May 9, 2017
The common wisdom around Obergefell (which found a constitutional right to same-sex marriage) is that it reflects just the latest in a recent series of secular triumphs over religious values in family life. That common wisdom would permanently locate questions about same-sex marriage at the center of a larger culture war between religious and secular values. Conflicts like these are incredibly persistent and divisive. As cases like Roe v. Wade show, they can harm people on all sides of the underlying debates.
But the common wisdom around Obergefell is wrong—or at least seriously incomplete. Obergerfell resulted not only from secular progressive causes but also from a recent and major, but less well studied, expansion in the religious and spiritual functions of marriage. In the period beginning in the 17th and 18th centuries in the West, and leading to the middle of the 20th century, history suggests a progressive development toward a social institution of marriage that this article calls “transformational marriage”. Transformational marriage—which is a concept distilled from Pope Francis's recent writings on Love in Marriage—serves as a vehicle for the transformation of early romantic desire into the psychological capacities needed to break free from the bondage of self and attain greater personal communion with God or the divine, however one conceives of these. Transformational marriage is not, however, a merely parochial or religious institution. It can help people with certain personal transformations needed to live well, in ways that can be understood in either religious or secular terms.
The rise of transformational marriage gave marriage expanded but underappreciated religious and spiritual functions in the West. The rise also depended, however, on greater public acceptance of a critical link between romantic love, personal choice, intimate satisfaction, and marriage. Though this link is now widely accepted, it is of fairly recent historical origin. The link is also part of the cause of recent developments toward the legalization of same-sex marriage in the West, and there is nothing in principle to limit the expanded religious and spiritual functions of transformational marriage to people who can fall into romantic love with people of the opposite sex.
These facts should significantly complicate the way that committed religious observers respond to the recent legalizations of same-sex marriage—including how certain scriptural passages, which seem to present obstacles to same-sex marriage, should be read. If given sufficient social, legal, and pastoral support, same-sex marriage of the transformational variety has underappreciated spiritual and religious potential. Opposition to it has underappreciated spiritual and religious costs. Hence, there is now room for common cause among people of good faith on all sides of the political and religious spectrum to support greater access to transformational marriage. Debates over same-sex marriage need not—and indeed should not—become a permanent fixture in the larger culture wars between religious and secular values.
Keywords: Obergefell, same-sex, homosexuality, marriage, Catholic, LGBT, equal, privacy, freedom of religion, religion, secular, culture war, scalia, RFRA, Kim Davis, Gergis, Gagnon, Brownson, Vines, christian, tolerance, same-sex marriage, religious tolerance, religious freedom, conscience, love, Francis
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
Kar, Robin Bradley, Transformational Marriage: How to End the Culture Wars Over Same-Sex Marriage (May 9, 2017). The Contested Place of Religion in Family Life (Cambridge University Press 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2965775