We knew same-sex marriage was coming, and Obergefell v. Hodges made it a legal reality. What’s unreal is the sweeping majority opinion, a farcical tour-de-force rooted in the risible rhetoric of tolerance and diversity. As an exercise in raw ideology, the majority opinion is impervious to demonstrated facts about the social and historical realities of marriage, sex, and family—and so comes across as willfully obtuse.
Many may be pleased with the outcome, but, as is the case with Roe v. Wade, legal scholars will come to recognize the weakness of Kennedy’s thinking. Indeed, its weakness is recognized already. Ilya Somin, Professor of Law at George Mason University and a same-sex marriage supporter pleased with the outcome, flayed Kennedy’s opinion in the Washington Post, finding it “based on dubious and sometimes incoherent logic”, “flawed”, and “far from satisfying.”
The decision puts the historic Western understanding of marriage in the same class of social evils as racism, and so many people of faith and conscience and many religious communities and civic organizations—as natural marriage is neither particularly Catholic nor even particularly religious—will face real intellectual and legal challenges, and are facing them even now.
Indeed, the line of division over same-sex marriage will not run between religious bodies and people of conscience on one side and the government and broader society on the other, but through religious bodies and the general population themselves, as many people, congregations, and institutions who and which one might expect to be loyal to the truth are signaling they’re abandoning the historic understanding of natural marriage to conform to the new social and legal situation. Marriage and those who defend it are facing an existential threat from both without and within.
It is crucial, then, that we engage in intellectual formation on the questions now facing us. To that end, here are several books I would recommend on marriage, sex, and family for those who would spend serious time thinking deeply about what marriage is, how we came to the point of its overthrow, and what the future might hold. Not all concern same-sex marriage as such; many deal more broadly with the family and the challenges to it that made Obergefell possible, if not inevitable.
• John Witte, Jr. From Sacrament to Contract: Marriage, Religion, and Law in the Western Tradition. 2d ed. Westminster John Knox Press, 2012.
Witte, Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, takes the reader through twenty-five hundred years of marriage history, from Greece and Rome though the Bible and Western church history into modernity. With copious quotes of primary sources and skillful intertwining of theology, law and social realities, this is the first and best book anyone of any persuasion should read on marriage.
• Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George. What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense. Encounter Books, 2012.
Being a human affair, marriage is a natural entity before it’s a religious matter. The authors make a purely rational, non-religious argument for natural marriage grounded in reason and history as a comprehensive union of will and body ordered to procreation and the broad sharing of life, involving permanent and exclusive commitment.
• Marilyn B. Skinner, Sexuality in Greek and Roman Culture. 2d ed. Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.
As many misconceptions about homosexual practices in the classical world find their way into contemporary debates, Skinner’s learned book is important, for it deals with all the relevant texts and generally avoids tendentious readings while paying some sober attention to the treatment of ancient sources by activist scholars.
• Pope Paul VI, On Human Life: Humanae Vitae. Ignatius Press, 2014.
Ignatius Press presents Fr. Marc A. Caligari’s 1998 translation of Paul VI’s controverted encyclical with Mary Eberstadt’s fine essay “The Vindication of Humanae Vitae” serving as a forward. James Hitchcock provides “A Historical Afterword” and former atheist turned Catholic-blogger-speaker-apologist Jennifer Fulwiler provides a postscript entitled “We’re Finally Ready for Humanae Vitae”. The additional material makes the volume most useful for discussion and study.
• Mary Eberstadt, Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution. Ignatius Press, 2013.
Eberstadt, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, provides us with a collection of essays worked into a coherent book dealing with the dynamics of technological and social change on sexuality and their effects on men, women, children, and young adults.
• Anthony Esolen, Defending Marriage: Twelve Arguments for Sanity. Saint Benedict Press, 2014.
Many people assume same-sex marriage affects no one outside of those who choose to enter such legal unions. Esolen, professor of literature and translator of Dante, shows how same-sex marriage will change society and culture on a deep level by its effects on things such as friendship, freedom, the relationship between the sexes, and children.
• Robert R. Reilly, Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior is Changing Everything. Ignatius Press, 2014.
Against those who would assert that acceptance of the gay agenda is no big deal, Reilly demonstrates not only that the acceptance of homosexuality is changing human society at a fundamental level but also through copious quotes that radical change to the fabric of human existence has been gay activists’ desired endgame.
• Ryan T. Anderson, Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom. Regnery, 2015.
Anderson, a Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, has done more to defend natural marriage in the public realm than any other figure. After Obergefell, he provides us with a road map for living with—and resisting—its consequences.
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