Called to “the Office” of Marriage

Elizabeth Scalia — briefly picking up her pen while still on hiatus from her cell — has an utterly different take on marriage that is well worth pondering:

If all proclaiming Christ are accepted to baptism, one might wonder, then why not all to marriage?

I think it comes down to offices, and the equality to be found therein. We talk about vocations and “one’s state in life,” but I wonder if we would not better serve both clarity and charity by considering that beyond baptism we are called to an Office. Since all Offices are callings, then all servants are equal within them and each office is lived within the fundamental calling of all baptized people, which is to chastity, first and foremost.

This brings home the barely-recognized fact that, except for those called to the Office of Marriage—who are themselves meant to be chaste within that Office—the rest of the world, the majority of humanity walking about, gay or straight, are meant to resist sexual concupiscence, whether within the Office of Singleness or Religious Consecration.

From a Western perspective, that sounds severe, but Eastern religions teach similarly, that all are called to sexual continence. Buddhists and Taoists understand that sexual energy has a “right” and “wrong” use. I know a Taoist couple who have sexual relations only for procreative purposes and during rare “seasonal” occasions. As the church calls homosexual activity “disordered”, Taoist understanding of Yin (feminine) and Yang (masculine) energies calls same sex activity “unbalanced.” In his book Beyond Dogma, the current Dalai Lama clarifies the Buddhist view: “A sexual act is deemed proper when the couples use the organs intended for sexual intercourse and nothing else . . . homosexuality, whether it is between men or between women, is not improper in itself. What is improper is the use of organs already defined as inappropriate for sexual contact.”

Despite differences in origin of understanding, the Dalai Lama’s pronouncements are remarkably similar to Catholic teaching, and next to the Taoist couple, Catholic sexual teaching—particularly Blessed John Paul’s teaching on the Theology of the Body—seems quite free. And yet gay activist Dan Savage is not attacking the Dalai Lama to cackling, appreciative crowds; no one is calling the Taoists “haters” or “homophobes.”

From a religious perspective, therefore, it does seem that in our nation of 300 million people, only a distinct minority of about 120 million (even less, discounting non-sacramental unions) are meant to be gifted with the duty of delight that is the sexual expression of love, within marriage.

Read it all.


  1. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been called to the Office more times than I care to admit… ; )

    I think the explanation- at least the one typically offered- is that the Taoists and Buddhists aren’t seeking to impose their thinking & behavior on the wider society under force of civic law. On the other hand, trying to re-define marriage as something else is an imposition in the other direction. I have to think that the only workable civic compromise is one that would allow unions almost as contracts that mirror many of the rights and privileges between spouses. But the “gay marriage” lobby would have to give up the term “marriage”. And of course this opens up all sorts of other configurations of unions which may or may not be good developments in themselves. (siblings, or a child caring for an aging widowed parent, or good friends, or … but it could certainly also end up permitting plural marriages and the like.)

  2. Katie Angel says:

    I think that too often in this discussion the parties are talking at cross purposes – I don’t know how to correct it but we will not get any solution as long as both parties cannot even come to a common understand of what is wanted. It seems to me that the gay/lesbian position is one of wanting to be granted the same legal rights that my late husband and I had (right of survivorship in terms of property and children, visitation rights at hospital, etc.) – rights that we did not have to contract for and which could not be overturned by a court (as has happened to friends of mine who lost a partner). The Church, on the other hand, is concerned with the sacramental aspect of marriage – the joining of two souls as one – and cannot accept or condone this union when it is not ordered. Both positions have merit – as a country, all our citizens should be equal under the law and all our faith traditions should be free to detemine what is and is not acceptable, without censure.

    Perhaps the answer is to divide the currently combined marriage rite into its component parts – a couple would go through a civil ceremony to sign the marriage contract (legal document) and would have a separate religious ceremony to sanctify and bless the marriage (religious “document”). It isn’t perfect, but it might be a way to satisfy both parties.

    What it doesn’t address, and I think one of the big hurdles no one talks about, is the social pressure that comes with the legal recognition. I am just about old enough to remember what a sea change it was for Southern churches in particular, but for all churches, when the Civil Right movement took hold. A lot of acceptable speech about race became, over time, unacceptable and would brand the speaker as a bigot, a racist or worse. It is possible the same thing would happen with homosexuality – it would become difficult or impossible to speak against it because of a societal change. I don’t know that it would happen, but it is likely – so it seems that needs to be part of the discussion as well.

  3. IntoTheWest says:

    –Perhaps the answer is to divide the currently combined marriage rite into its component parts – a couple would go through a civil ceremony to sign the marriage contract (legal document) and would have a separate religious ceremony to sanctify and bless the marriage (religious “document”). It isn’t perfect, but it might be a way to satisfy both parties.–

    Isn’t this technically what happens already? The state-issued marriage license is essentially the civil ceremony, with the religious bodies providing the follow-through re finalizing the marriage.

    This has always made sense to me. The state should not be in the business of marriage and religious communities should not be in the business of civil unions. So the state provides civil unions for all, establishing the protections granted under the law to all who seek them, and religious bodies provide the sacramental element, or religious element according to each faith, to those who seek it.

    What we’d have now is everyone being required to have their civil union finalized by the state (which is just paperwork and could probably be done easily enough online for those who are choosing to celebrate sacramental/religious marriage afterwards), and then only those who choose a religious ceremony would seek that extra step.

  4. Deacon Greg Kandra says:


    Elizabeth Scalia has been arguing for something like that for years — in fact, just this week she weighed in again.


  5. Fiergenholt says:

    In some cases, that is being done already here in the US but that is being done by the choice of the couples. Many DO get married civilly and only later have their religious validation witnessed.

    In many countries of the world, France comes to mind, the CIVIL ceremony is required of everyone and the original legal witness MUST be a civil official. If the couple decides afterwards to have an additional religious ceremony, that is largely irrelevant to the civil authorities.

    One “wag” tried to prove to me that since four out of five nominally Roman Catholic Couples in France never ever have their wedding validated in a religious ceremony, they are all “living in sin!”

    I see her every now and then and try to ignore her.

  6. IntoTheWest says:

    Many people have advocated for such a model for a while now, but it’s the religious power players who’ve always stood in the way (and not just or even mostly Catholics — the Mormons, for example, have invested a lot of money and energy into fighting gay marriage/civil unions). Had they rendered unto Caesar from the get-go, this wouldn’t be the non-issue issue it is in every election, among faith communities, and the real loons who want to marry their bedposts or local Taco Bells or whathaveyou would have been stuck out in loony-land where they belong. The situation would never have been ramped up to the level it is now.

  7. Valiant and impassioned, as I would expect from Elizabeth, but perhaps missing a few key points.

    The reason why Mr Savage is not attacking the Dalai Lama is that Buddhists don’t govern the US; Christians do. Woven deep into our national/cultural identity as Americans is staking out ground where we don’t allow oppressors to tell us what to do. Christians identify strongly with the governance of this country. We promote our moral statutes and live by them, for the most part. We invite others to live by them. And on occasion, we’ve insisted they live by our interpretation of them, too.

    What Ms Scalia and others seem to be defending is inherently un-American: the notion that some people cannot determine their own expression of life and love.

    The other matter that remains a curiosity to me is how good moral conduct: permanence, building a family, visiting the sick, sharing material resources, and most of the other benefits of same-sex unions are resisted with every energy, but that the one thing we Christians deem immoral: sex outside of marriage–we don’t touch that.

    I also recognize I live in a law-and-rights-oriented culture where people and their actions are largely defined by what is legal and what is not. Essentially, Christian conservatives seem to be saying that you can have all the sex you want (just keep it out of sight) but none of the responsibilities. It’s a curiously libertine approach when you think about it.

  8. But that still seems like an oversimplification to me, Todd.

    I see the more reasonable aspects of the religious objections as grounded in two primary areas:
    -first, the state has a responsibility to promote that which is best for the broader society, in this case, healthy and stable heterosexual marriages for the sake of raising well-adjusted and responsible children/citizens. The nuclear family either is or is not a fundamental building block of society. (now, of course the question hinges on whether a homosexual couple can achieve the same goals of family life. Of course things like IVF and surrogacy and adoption and other practices have to be part of the package, which may have their own moral complications.)
    -The second objection is whether homosexual unions should be considered “normative” along with traditional heterosexual ones. That is, can educational institutions, for example, be compelled to present both family structures on an equal footing. This also then ties in with the concern mentioned above about “hate speech” and whether any objection to homosexual practice can be automatically considered criminal.

    These are not neat little questions easily answered or dismissed. From a civic standpoint, I consider something like the recent NC vote to be an overreach (outright banning of civil unions as well), though it is understandable from the perspective of my first point above. On the other hand, I think forcing an unquestioning acceptance and encouragement of homosexual relationships is an overreach in the other direction (government dictating private conscience and freedom of expression). Is there any middle ground that would be accepted by the majority of Americans?

    (btw, I’m sure with more time I would perfect some of my words and phrases, but hopefully I’ve presented the basics adequately from my perspective.)

  9. Oregon Catholic says:

    It’s so much more than civil marriage and religious matrimony. Homosexuals already have the ability to form legal civil unions and select employers that recognize and support those unions. It is about wanting the “normalizing’ that they believe is accorded them in marriage – to be on an equal footing socially with heterosexual couples. They will resist any attempt to separate homosexual marriages from heterosexual ones, up to and including demanding religious ceremonies.

    I object to SSM, not just because it is a sin, but because it amounts to supporting a lie and is ‘Orwellian’ in the extreme. We already have too much of the double-speak of moral relativity in our lives which hides the nature of things as they really are. I believe the kind of doublespeak we live with is truly of satanic origin – evil disguised as something good – and it has all the evil one’s characteristic lies. I also object to SSM because it truly is the push to a quick slide down a slippery slope to acceptance and then normalization of a multitude of perversions. Once one man, one woman is no longer the definition, then any definition can be legally defended.

  10. ron chandonia says:

    Good analysis of what is at stake in the controversy. Most Catholics today seem to have picked up on the rights-talk that goes with a commitment to social justice. But very few seem to be focused on the end result of a just society: the COMMON good. Same-sex marriage is an offense against the common good, and your post states the two major reasons why that is the case.

  11. IntoTheWest says:

    It’s only relatively recently that marriage consisted of a willing, autonomous female and a willing, autonomous male. I’m not sure what “normal” in regards to marriage even is.

    Women, not so very long ago, used to be considered property. You could sell them into marriage, you could use them as you pleased, even beat them, and it was all perfectly “normal”. Unfortunately, this is still the case in some societies.

    Gay couples are already on an equal social footing as straight couples. Gay men and women have been forming committed partnerships and living as such, including raising children together, and doing it as well as straight men and women — they certainly haven’t done any worse than far too many straight couples, AAMOF.

    One man + one woman hasn’t always been the definition of marriage, and it still isn’t in some cultures. One man + several women is still “normal” and considered good and holy in these cultures.

    Satan, I imagine, is laughing hilariously at the thought of Christians being so distracted by what some fuddy-duddy, boring old gay guys or gals might be doing that they allow all kinds of evil into their own homes.

    Marriage is as marriage does. When straight people stop making hot messes out of theirs, they can poke their noses into gay people’s marriages.

  12. IntoTheWest says:

    Divorce is an offense against the common good.
    Adoption too often is an offense against the common good.
    Promiscuity is an offense against the common good.
    An economic structure that necessitates a two-income family is an offense against the common good.
    Corporate greed is an offense against the common good.
    Government overreach is an offense against the common good.

    Let’s fix all that before we start hyper-focusing on gay marriage, which doesn’t have nearly the same negative impact on the common good as all those things listed above.

  13. Steve, thanks for engaging.

    First, I would object to the nuclear family as the ideal. That is a construct of the late industrial revolution and the modern era individualism. Even better for children is being placed in an extended family: mother, father, grandparents, plus cousins, uncles, aunts, etc.–not to mention the village.

    Unfortunately, death and other aspects of life prevent all children from having this. There’s no guarantee for my daughter, for example, that my wife or I won’t drop dead from a stroke or an aneurysm or something today. She will have no right to petition God for a re-do on that. That a person has a “right” to a mom and a dad is illusory. Parents have a *responsibility* to their children–that’s what I would insist upon.

    And considering the half-million children who are orphans or living in foster care who lack permanent families in the US today, count me as very skeptical on any moral movement that touts the value of mom-n-dad for everyone without considering a full-press movement of adoption for these boys and girls.

    I don’t think you intended your statement on adoption as it came out. I too have difficulties with IVF on moral grounds. But please don’t lump in adoption with the morally problematic. Adoption is a godly institution. More people should be availing themselves of this option. That they aren’t speaks very ill of the overall pro-life witness of both the Church, and of course, American society.

    Is there a middle ground for the acceptance/talking about same-sex unions? I think so. Let me state it from my viewpoint:

    I am a Catholic. My faith tradition informs my personal actions regarding sex, and as a heterosexual man, I am married to one woman for life and I recognize the responsibility involving sexual intercourse remains within the sacrament of marriage. For me to have sex outside of that marriage, with another woman, would be a violation of the sacrament, and for me to have sex with a man would be a violation of how God created me.

    I recognize that other people have an attraction to people of the same sex. I cannot condone sexual intercourse even under those conditions, but I also recognize that God has perhaps made these people to be as they are, and they must be true to the nature of who they are.

    I can assure someone of my faith tradition that if they remain faithful to the Church’s teaching on sex, they will find a fruitfulness of life, even though it may be difficult and demanding.

    If someone chooses to move against Church teaching, I can offer no guarantees along the lines of what I’ve experienced and enjoy sacramentally. But I also recognize that there are good and moral movements to be found within a same-sex union. I can’t accept such a union in the same way my Church accepts marriage. But I can recognize what is good and even of benefit to society within that choice.

    I’d say that as long as Christians keep the discussion along the lines of “This is what I believe” and avoids “This is how *you* have to be,” I think we will find people who disagree with us, but they are willing to respect out stance.

  14. Midwestlady says:

    There is so, so much here in this issue.

    1. Christianity, Judaism and Islam each make truth claims in ways that other religions do not. It’s part of their structure and heritage. This leads adherents of those three religions to proclaim what is right or wrong in a general sense, even to non-adherents. It doesn’t even mean the same thing to “evangelize” in the Western sense as it might in the Eastern sense. Elizabeth is right to point out that virtually *all* world religions have ideas and teachings about sexuality and celibacy simply because they are perennial human concerns, but the nature of compunction from religion to religion is quite different when Christianity, Judaism or Islam is involved in the comparison. We don’t have only teachings, expectations and guru-like discipleships that a person adopts or grows into; rather, we have doctrines that can be applied even as a person’s life comes into or goes out of compliance (and all the soft stuff that entails) with what we regard as universal truths. [NB: For instance, it's instructive that many of the strongest proponents of the homosexual cause seek not only a "path" or discipleship to a gay life, but seek to be declared "Right In Principle." This means that they haven't left the Christian way of thinking of things, even as they try to tear it down.]

    2. Western civilizations, meaning primarily European civilizations, have as part of their elemental construction dependence on Christianity, and so some of the most basic, ingrained and cherished ideas we have are based on elements of Christianity in at least an implicit fashion. The whole “separation of church and state” thing is just one piece of the denial of these basic components of Christian society, which started long ago. All this makes navigating changes that come close to important ideas in Christianity very difficult and complicated.

    3. We live in a post-modern society, which regardless of the nature of its construction on European mores and concepts, is moving away from precedent based on law at a rapid pace towards something much more user-driven, experiential and fractionated. This also makes all this very, very difficult. Rules are breaking down. What a person can get away with is becoming merely what he can get away with, no more or no less. Some people, it turns out are charming or moneyed or connected well enough to get away with more. This doesn’t dismay people; it inspires them in our culture, even when they have minor quibbles about scruples. People tend to get over scruples in our culture. It’s the nature of our culture in 2012. IF and when homosexual behavior is accepted by the culture, it will be by this route. Another note: In this new world, you can claim you are “Right in Principle” all you want, but it matters rather little. Anything that basically doesn’t kill you immediately is equally “Right in Principle” in this new world.

  15. Midwestlady says:

    And so for you, it’s a “what works” and “what can be done” calculation. This is very post-modern.

  16. Midwestlady says:

    As long as we inhabit a world where the language & law of the Christian culture that we’ve been living in is the language & law we use, the goals of people who want to depart from the laws of Christianity are going to be at odds with Christianity. And make no mistake, homosexual behavior is definitively at odds with Christianity, and it would be the case even if all we had were the scriptures, since they are absolutely explicit about it. There is no one to blame.

    For this reason, only when we take it apart like you suggest, in departments, and cleave marriage into pieces can it enter the more user-driven expectations of post-modern society. This itself is a violation of the Christian ethic because the Christian ethic has built-in truth claims…..but ignoring that for the moment…….such a solution propels us beyond that into a stance that is becoming much more predominant and acceptable to people now.

    But it has problems too. The problem with it, according to gay rights activists, and the advantage to it, according to gay rights practictioners, is the same. If you can do it, you can do it, but it’s not “Right in Principle.” This has always been the issue in the past. If we move beyond the Christian foundations of Western culture then compartmentalization and common understanding ceases to be a problem but no one is warranted in claiming they are “Right in Principle” because any hope of a dogmatic foundation is gone. And we live in shambles but we blame each other for nothing…well at least, as long as we can stomach such a utopia at everyone’s expense. And until, of course, somebody gets the bright idea to build a 4th truth-claim religion out of pure fabric.

  17. naturgesetz says:

    Even in societies that accept polygamy (or the rarer, if not merely legendary, polyandry), marriage has always been male+female. Each wife in a polygamous marriage is individually the wife of her husband.

    There is nothing in the fact that some societies approve of multiple simultaneous marriages to support the idea that marriage is anything but a relationship between male and female.

  18. Katie Angel says:

    Very interesting and thought-provoking. Thank you.

  19. No I think Anchoress is wrong. That would be a capituation of the war on marriage.

    We as Catholics are not saying that all weddings must be officiated by Catholic ministers. At least 80% of weddings have nothing to do with Catholicism. The fact that baptisms occur outside of secular society is a wrong anology. Baptism does not organise the structure of society into families as the lowest common unit.

    We as Catholics (and other religious people) stipulate that marriage is a societal orgainzing principle because we believe that marriage is beneficial to the societal stability. By eliminating the priciple of marriage you are destabilizing marriage even further. We do not support shacking up or divorce on whim for society, even though most people in our country are not practising Catholics. We oppose them because society is harmed by them and has been harmed by them. Look at the nature of society today and you have to cringe. This would be pushing it over the cliff. By making marriage only a signature on a piece of paper, you have further weakened the family unit. And further weakening it leads to atheism, abortions, and a society where sexual pleasure is the organizing principle.

    And it does nothing to solve the homosexual issue. Would Catholics now support homosexuality? No, because it weakens the marriage principle. If it’s only a signature on a piece of paper authorized with a notary, then why not multiple people signing such a piece of paper into one marriage?

    There are a lot of implied points inside my comments above. I don’t have the time to flesh them out, but I hope you can see why a separate civil union is bad for society. What happens is that marriage becomes a fluid institution, and fluidity makes it meaningless. We as Catholics should insist that marriage as defined to be one man and one woman is a vital institution for society.

    I could never support what Anchoress is advocating. And neither should our Bishops.

  20. Midwestlady says:


    You have very capably stated several “truth claims” that are inherent in all three of the biblical religions coming out of the Middle East: Christianity, Islam & Judaism.

    Other religions have “paths” or “apprenticeships” or “escapes to nirvana” or “household deities that you only have to appease instance-by-instance for all to be well.” We don’t. There is one God over all, and one version of truth that applies to all. This is the very essence of the truth claims that the great monotheistic biblical religions–Christianity, Judaism and Islam–make, albeit stated slightly differently from one to the other of these three great religions.

    We work our lives out using these great truths, aware that we have “principles” as Manny says, to guide us. Our principles are not ourselves, nor are they are not temporal precedents or accidents of our own making. They come from revelation because that’s how these three great religions work, and have always worked.

  21. Midwestlady says:

    Typo: Our principles are not ourselves, nor are they temporal precedents or accidents of our own making. They come from revelation because that’s how these three great religions work, and have always worked.

  22. naturgesetz says:

    What we have to realize same-sex “marriage” is wrong for society not simply because Christianity is true but because it is against reality at the level of human nature. No institution, no relationship, can in fact be the same as the commitment of a man and a woman in a relationship which is of the type which can produce children. That is why it was possible for the pagan Greek philosopher Aristotle to recognize the marital union of man and woman as the foundational building block of all human society.

    So even if we were to accept a distinction between civil marriage and religious marriage, with two separate ceremonies, we should still find it necessary to propose a recognition of same sex “marriage” under civil law.

  23. naturgesetz says:

    Yikes! The last clause in my previous post should read that “we should still find it necessary to oppose a recognition of same sex ‘marriage’ under civil law.”

  24. To clarify– my reference to adoption was meant to indicate adoption by homosexual couples, not adoption in general.

    Yes, I support adoption as a great good, and you have to wonder what would happen if we spent as much time and energy supporting that as we seem to do opposing other things.

    I was speaking with a good friend the other day about that very matter– our Church is being identified more and more with what she is AGAINST rather than what she is FOR. I find this disturbing to say the least.

  25. Midwestlady says:

    Except then your grounds for authority are philosophical, that is, founded on the strength of your argument alone. In a society that argues constantly but is grounded on power, not logic, it won’t get very far. Good luck.

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