The Ideal of Marriage

This is a letter from Norman Vincent Peale’s Q&A column in Look Magazine from 1956:

Peale was an extremely influential figure in America’s post-war Christianity, so its probably not surprising that this column generated a lot of responses when it ran. Rebecca Davis, a historian of marriage in America, came across a collection of these responses. Davis produced a paper, “My Homosexuality Is Getting Worse Every Day,” an excerpt of which (pdf) is available along with reactions at the Religion and Culture Webforum.

It’s important to note that Peale was operating with the science available to him at the time. Homosexuality was considered a mental illness by most psychiatrists. As Davis points out, Peale was inclined to accept this view because it fit his positive thinking, therapeutic form of liberal Christian theology. It’s interesting that “anti-gay therapy” has now moved to the conservatives.

Another thing to note is Peale’s implicit understanding of heterosexual marriage as the ideal form of life, an idea echoed by the letters he received. Davis explains, “The cure that many of these men and women sought centered on the attainment of marriage and children, a desire that reflected the ethos of the post-war Baby Boom generation that glorified middle-class family life. […] None of these writers recognized any possibility for family life within a homosexual framework. For all of them, family formation demanded heterosexuality.”

I’ve written before about how I hope that marriage equality will change society’s expectations of what marriage involves. Along the same lines, Margot Page had a NYT column about how gay marriage frees up the language around marriage, and our neighbor Leah Libresco echoes that sentiment:

When the pressure is off and we’re all less focused on the way the State shapes marriage, I think we’re going to have an easier time discussing how marriage shapes us. The growing diversity of models of marriage is going to force us to get specific about what kind of relationship we’re about to enter and begin it deliberately and joyfully.