While I suspect Iowa’s Supreme Court ruling went well beyond the current moral capacities of many of that state’s citizens, their unanimous ruling establishing the right of gay marriage is a wonderful one.  And as usual, the culture warriors are up in arms, pontificating about ‘tradition,’ though as usual knowing little of it.  That celibate priests feel competent to talk of such matters is, for an outsider, a hoot.

The seeds of Iowa’s court ruling were planted once people increasingly began marrying for love, rather than as part of a business or political arrangement between two families, to provide support in old age, or solely to have children.  This ideal really began taking off about 200 years ago according to Stephanie Coontz in her book Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage.  Once love began to trump other reasons for marrying, the cultural stage was set for even more change.

Childless couples are still regarded as married, and sometimes even of having good marriages.  Today many couples adopt children rather than having ones of their own,
without having any questions raised about the goodness or
appropriateness of their marriages.   People who stay together after their children leave are regarded by everyone as having better marriages than those who do not, at least so long as love survives.  Clearly, by modern standards the connection between marriage and children is not as crucial one as the role of love.  Love is a good marriage’s most basic requirement.

Heterosexual marriage has changed radically throughout history.  When it changed so as to privilege love above all other reasons for getting married, it crossed an important cultural tipping point, one that would ultimately lead to gay marriage.  (I suspect this development also laid a key foundation for feminism, but that’s another topic.)

I think marriage for love, and therefore gay marriage as well as straight marriage, also represents a gigantic spiritual step forward.  Spirituality is closely connected with – I’d even say it is dependent on – a capacity to love, and the larger and more deeply we can develop our capacity, the better.  When we have genuine intimacy with another we develop the depth of our capacity. It is not the only way, but it is a good way.

That many marriages ultimately break up is to be expected, for we are not all that good at loving.  Most of us need to learn, and there is a learning curve.  But almost everyone makes the attempt, and a large number of those attempts succeed, if not the first time, then at a later one.

Heterosexual people of good-will and able to mind their own business can unite with their gay brothers and sisters in celebrating a time that has come at last.

More from Beliefnet and our partners