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Holy Matrimony vs "Marriage"

Remember what a hard time my seventh grade CCD class had when we studied the sacrament of Holy Matrimony? The societal portrayal of marriage just doesn’t match Church teachings on marriage. The California Supreme Court has now increased the confusion with their ruling that a ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. Fr. Robert Araujo offers an astute analysis of the legal morass that will follow such a ruling:

Prior to the Goodridge decision being handed down, I argued in the Wardle-Strasser-Duncan-Coolidge anthology Marriage and Same-Sex Unions: A Debate, which was published in early 2003, that there was no discrimination, no inequality in the laws that restricted marriage to the union of one man and one woman. These laws applied equally to all persons regardless of their sexual orientation. But now, with Goodridge and In Re Marriage Cases, the meaning of equality has been given a skewed definition. Thus, I think it is now possible to expect that the actions of states which target those in committed polygamist relationships will face challenges based on parallel liberty, dignity, autonomy, and equality arguments. These arguments will be founded on the interesting but flawed judicial interpretations of the Goodridge and In Re Marriage Cases majority opinions. Moreover, I think that those states which have recently targeted polygamists with the compulsion of their regulatory authority can expect legal challenges to their actions which contravene the liberty, dignity, autonomy, and equality of polygamists.

These challenges will be the fruits of Goodridge and In Re Marriage Cases that likely were not intended but will follow if the concepts of liberty, dignity, autonomy, and equality defined by these decisions and granted to some persons are to be granted to all. It will be interesting to see what others think about these matters.

From my own view as a lay Catholic, a parent, and a catechist, I see a very serious problem with the language. Both the Church and the California Supreme Court are using the word “marriage”. However, they mean two very different things. The Church means the sacramental union of one man and one woman. They are joined by God in a relationship that mirrors the love of Christ for His Church. God uses this totally self-giving love to bring forth the gift of life itself. Two men or two women cannot form this kind of sacramental union. It is impossible for them to be truly married.

When the state refers to marriage, it refers to a contractual relationship between two people. They possess a joint legal identity. Up until now, these two people have always been a man and a woman. But now the state sees no secular reason to restrict these legal unions to one man and one woman. Using the legal logic currently in vogue, I think Fr. Araujo is correct when he predicts state sanctioned polygamy as the next step in the evolution of the state definition of marriage.

So should the Church continue to cooperate with the state as a minister of marriage? I am not sure. In the United States, the religious rite of marriage qualifies as a civil marriage as well. This made sense when the state and the Church were talking about the same thing when they spoke of marriage. However, now that the state and the Church have such divergent definitions of marriage, perhaps it is time for the Church to clearly distance itself from the civil aspects of marriage. Perhaps the Church should continue to offer the sacrament of Holy Matrimony just as it always has, but couples who want their relationship defined as marriage by the state will have to be married by the state as well. This sounds like a royal headache for newlyweds, but it also clearly differentiates the sacramental wedding from the legalistic state defined marriage. Of course, the risk is that more couples would forgo the sacrament and just have a civil wedding. But maybe that is preferable to having Holy Matrimony lumped in with the endless permutations of state defined “marriage”. Would that make it easier for my seventh grade CCD students to understand the sacrament of marriage?


phbrown said…
I'm not sure it's all that important catechetically whether Church marriage also counts as civil marriage or not. The key point for CCD kids is that the Church's definition of marriage is a whole lot tighter than the state's. Once they realize that Holy Matrimony is simply not the same thing as what happens in a civil marriage, you have some leeway to talk about why the differences make sense.

The key counter-cultural point in the Church's understanding of Holy Matrimony is the essential role of procreation. (Indeed, motherhood is right there in the word "Matrimony".) The culture, and increasingly the courts, view married sex as unitive; procreation is an optional extra. So we get serial divorce (the unitive has been lost, so the marriage is over) and gay marriage (it's unitive, it must be marriage).

The Church, by contrast, views sex as essentially both unitive and procreative. (Interestingly, in the cases where courts have recognized the intrinsic procreative aspect to marriage, they have generally found that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples is non-discriminatory.) In the Church's definition, trying to separate the unitive from the procreative in sex is like trying to separate the hydrogen from the oxygen in water; you can try that, but when you're done it isn't water. This is why it's necessary for the Church to restrict sex to marriage; unmarried childbearing is demonstrably worse for the kids. That's why it is necessary for the Church to insist on a lifelong union; divorce is demonstrably bad for kids, even when the marriage is humdrum. That's why same-sex marriage makes no sense, from a Catholic point of view—same-sex sex is by definition not open to procreation.
(I realize that the procreation angle isn't the only reason for these features of Catholic teaching. I'm just claiming that procreation is a sufficient reason, not that it's the only reason.)

Hope that helps at least a little.

RAnn said…
Actually there are countries where two weddings are the norm. I have a friend from Honduras who said the usual thing there is for the enganged couple to go and have the civil wedding, and then to get the official papers/passports changed. They then go home to their respective parents' houses, and a couple of weeks later, when the woman's new passport is back, they'd have the church wedding and honeymoon--and the family would consider them married. Remember, a no-frills civil wedding takes about 10 minutes.

We have friends who, back in the 1970's had three weddings. I know the Church doesn't allow this, and I don't know what the priest knew and didn't know, but the couple was a Jewish man and a Catholic woman. They had a small Jewish wedding with a rabbi and the groom's family; a small Catholic wedding with a priest and the bride's family, and then, at the reception, they were "married" again by a JP in front of all the family and friends.

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