Why Can’t We Just Give Marriage Back to the Churches?

In the debate about the nature of marriage, many people wonder why we don’t just give marriage back to the churches.

Well, in the first place, it’s gone too far for that.  Gay marriage advocates would never be satisfied with that option.

More importantly though, the question is based on the false idea that marriage was invented by churches.  It wasn’t.  Marriage began as  a natural institution (men and women deciding on their own to make a lifelong committment to each other) that became a social institution when Hammurabi (late 1700′s BC) distinguished it as separate and distinct from cohabiting, or same sex relationships, or hookups with temple prostitutes etc.

So marriage existed as a natural institution that was raised to a social institution because of the benefits marriage gave to society.

At a much later date, churches give marriage a new spiritual dignity as well, but churches were late to the marriage banquet as it were.  The Church, in particular, didn’t invent marriage any more than it invented bread or water.  It just uses those naturally occuring things and gives them a new spiritual dimension.  To suggest that we “give marriage back to the churches” makes as much sense as giving churches all the water rights in the world, or signing all the bakeries over to the Church.

Marriage evolved as a natural and social institution because it was good for people and good for society.  It must be protected for that same reason.  That said, if it isn’t protected, marriage won’t die.  Society as we know it will.  And then a new society will be created by the people who value traditional marriage because it is marriage that drives civilization, not the other way around.

About Dr. Greg

Dr. Gregory Popcak directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to marriage, family, and personal problems. Together with his wife, Lisa, he hosts More2Life Radio. He is the author of over a dozen books integrating psychological insights with our Catholic faith. For more info about books, tele-counseling and other resources, visit www.CatholicCounselors.com.

  • Araghast

    What would you say about the idea of abolishing the legal recognition and legislation of marriage, taking it out of the legal sphere and then leaving it to be what it is at its core; an affirmation of a personal commitment to another human being?

    • http://www.catholiccounselors.com Dr. Greg

      That’s not what marriage is at it’s core. Marriage, at its core, has always been society’s way of protecting a child’s right to know, and be raised by, his or her own mother and father. What you describe is a more subjective meaning of marriage that, while important, is a later and secondary development to marriage’s primary job as an institition established to protect the rights of children. Actually, come to think of it, you haven’t defined marriage at all, you’ve provided a very good definition of cohabitation, though. Thank you. Dr.Greg

      • Araghast

        How does marriage protect such a right to have that knowledge?
        How is marriage even nessicary for a child to know who their parents are, or be raised by them?
        A further point would be that “right” would only be a right in societies where it is/was important for a child to know their birth parents. Like say, for property rights.

        Now I fully grant that there are a bounty of great peices of legislation attached to mariage. I won’t bother listing examples since I’m confident we both could rattle off a short list. But how many of those peices of protective legislation (which are also designed to help the parents, not just the children) require mariage (especially when its narrowly defined as “hetrosexual only”) In order for the protections to be in place?

        And finally I would disagree that the child has the right to be raised by their own mother and father, they have the right to be raised by loving capable parents. (If the biological parents are abusing the child, or are otherwise mistreating the child, should we still affirm that the child remain in such a family because its a “right”?).

        • http://www.catholiccounselors.com Dr. Greg

          Think it through, Araghast, how else does a child have a right to know his mother and father if not for marriage? Does a child born to cohabiting parents have a legal right to know his baby daddy? No. Does a donor-conceived child have any rights to know his parentage? No. Marriage is the only arrangement that protects the rights of the child.

          Finally, your assertion that a child has a right to be raised by loving parents is fine as far as it goes, but all the data shows that children raised a healthy mother and father do best. We cannot guarantee that will happen for every child, but intentionally depriving a child from the outset a mother or father shortchanges a child at the start of the race. To further tell that child that he or she is not allowed to grieve that missing parent because it would be discriminatory is to further the violence against the child. I appreciate your passion, but you’ve failed to think through the consequences of your opinion.

        • Irenic

          Contains a correction

          Araghast, if I may.

          From JPII’s Theology of the Body (Ch. 23), marriage is couched in terminology that is as far from legalisms and “personal commitment” as can be. Good though these might be, they are but shades of grey in a forest denuded of leaves. In themselves, these say nothing about our need to commune with our Creator and to return to the hitherto “lost” state of paradise.

          Enter Christ, and his Pascha:

          How significant it is that Christ, in the answer to all these questions, orders man to return, in a way, to the threshold of his theological history! He orders him to put himself at the border between original innocence, happiness and the inheritance of the first fall. Does he not perhaps mean to tell him that the path along which he leads man, male and female, in the sacrament of marriage, the path of the “redemption of the body”, must consist in regaining this dignity, in which there is accomplished, simultaneously, the real meaning of the human body, its personal meaning and its meaning “of communion”.

    • Mal

      Marriage does not belong to any sphere. It is a natural human phenomenon that is designed in our nature. This is why we have two genders. (Christians should be reminded that, in response to a question on marriage, Jesus said that it was for this that God made us Male and Female). A marriage happens when two people from the two genders commit themselves to each other. Religions may bless it and states may record it. This is the only human relationship that naturally provides the community with stability and continuity.

      • Russ

        Couldn’t have said it any better.

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  • Theodore Seeber

    That’s the conclusion I’ve come to. It is clear that these anti-life families will eventually die out. And future generations will laugh at us.

    • Angel

      True, but until then, they will make a BIG mess of things!

      • Fr Eric

        It is a war of attrition. Fidelity, Indissolubility and Procreation, when these are attacked society is doomed. The war on the family has been going on in our country for some time. Same sex marriage is the final nail in the coffin. Those who have families according to the reality of nature, and restored in Christ Jesus, will last. However, we are entering into very dark times of suffering.

  • Kathleen Schilling

    According to Salvationhistory.org:
    B. The Wedding in the Garden
    The “sign” of God’s creation covenant of love is marriage.
    So we have the chapter that begins with God instituting the Sabbath, blessing it and making it holy (Genesis 2:1-3) ending with God instituting marriage – in which man and woman become one flesh (Genesis 2:23-24).

  • Danielle

    No the Church didn’t invent it, GOD DID. And I d on’t see why the government needs to meddle in everything, that’s why everything the government touches turns to ASH. I am sick of people saying it’s too hard to go back. IT is worth it to not have the government involved. PERIOD

    • http://www.catholiccounselors.com Dr. Greg

      I appreciate your passion but your position would be hard to reconcile with Catholic social teaching which argues that the call to family is a universal right. Laws exist to protect basic human rights. The Church would support any law that promotes the centrality of family as the fundamental unit of civilization.

      • Alexandros Querulous

        Dr. Greg,

        Let me start by saying that my wife and I really enjoyed your book, “For Better, Forever.” Thank you for your good work. I’ve read a few of your recent posts and articles lately, and I am curious as to why you keep dialoguing with people from a “rights” perspective? The idea of “rights” is a loaded term that carries with it a great deal of modern philosophical baggage. I find it odd to place the discussion of the problem of gay marriage in terms of a child having a “right” to know his parents. Moreover, I wonder if this is really what marriage is “at its core”, as you say above, or if this may be a bit reductive?

        The natural law dictates that marriage be between a man and a woman and that this marriage is furthered ordered to the generation and education of children for the preservation of the species and the good order of the society. The common good of marriage is therefore rooted in children and family life, and this means that the perfection of husband and wife and their human flourishing as mother and father consists most especially in participating in these goods (or at least having the capacity to participate in them), and that reciprocally, by participating in this good of a family life, with its requisite responsibilities and obligations, children also flourish and grow into healthy and active members of society. The good of society is therefore immediately tied to this stable order (I realize that this line of reasoning is just too simple for many to wrap their heads around, but I must quickly iterate the actual structure of reality so as to logically ground the rest of my discussion before moving on).

        From this perspective, i.e., from the deeper perspective of the common good, one immediately perceives that the question of a child’s rights is an ancillary or secondary consideration as to the discussion of the rightness or wrongness, or problem of gay marriage. It also becomes more apparent that the problem is really a matter of obligations and duties more than “rights”? Note that even the wisdom literature in the OT, such as Proverbs or Sirach frames the parent/child relationship in terms of mutual responsibilities or duties. Although I perfectly understand what you mean when you speak of a child’s rights, and realize that you understand these rights to be rooted in the natural law, if we continue to embroil ourselves in “rights” discussion, won’t we eventually find that there will be nothing to adjuticate between competing moral visions?

        Proponents of gay marriage will claim their “rights”, we will speak, ad contra, of a child’s “rights”, and we will go around and around in the same obfuscating circle of equivocation. What they mean by “rights” (a mere assertion of will), and what we mean by “rights” (something grounded in the actual ontological order of reality) are so dramatically different, that without sufficient unpacking, which cannot be effectively accomplished in the space of a comment box, the term is rendered practically useless in dialectical discussion, and more often than not, just serves to make things more confusing.

        Point in case, just note how our friend Araghast, despite whatever else might be held against him, is all over the use of the word “right” and its seeming malleability. He even brings in the UN Convention on Rights below! Are we adequately able to explain to him, in a comment discussion in the blogosphere, what a mess the notion of “Human Rights” is and why the UN Convention cannot “make” rights?

        The ultimate difficulty is that rights language shifts the perspective in a way that we should not be comfortable with, seeing as rights generally tend to turn people in upon themselves (an interesting point from a psychological perspective as well). Considered in itself, a homosexual union is quite literally unable to contribute to the preservation of society. This is the very first and most basic good of the human person and of society as a whole: the preservation of self. A homosexual union cannot fulfill this basic good, a good that is very intimately their own personal good. It is stultifying and is only oriented towards death. How can it possibly be contributive to the common good of society if it stops short of meeting this first and most basic requirement? Obviously, I do not mean to say that individual homosexual people cannot contribute to society in meaningful ways, but I speak of the union qua union. It is hopelessly, utterly private, oriented towards itself alone, and this is the deepest problem and the primary reason why it should not be defined as marriage (This seems to be your point in the actual article above). I’m not confident that rights language can get us there. But I wonder if there is a way to speak directly to these deeper points of the natural law without actually using those nasty words like “natural law”, “God’s plan”, etc.? Maybe from a psychological, or phenomenological perspective? Any thoughts?

        • http://www.catholiccounselors.com Dr. Greg

          Thank you for your comments. Natural Law is how we derive our rights. I am attempting to do exactly what you suggested at the end. Most people would agree that the needs/rights of a child are a more immediate concern than the rights/needs of adults. Whom do you feed first, a starving baby or a starving 30yo? Both are important, but most people will feed the child.

          I am attempting to articulate 1) what are the basis of our “rights” and 2) that not all rights are of equal importance even if they are rights. Of, course, its a blog so we have to recognize that the environment here doesn’t allow for perfect communication. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.

          • Araghast

            So how in your opinion does marriage grant those rights to children? and how does providing a more inclusive definition of marriage prevent children from having those rights?

          • http://www.catholiccounselors.com Dr. Greg

            Really not sure how to make it clearer to you. Ima try one more time then I’m moving on. Does a donor-conceived child have a legal right to know his mom or dad? No. Does a child born out of wedlock have a legal right to know his dad? No. Does an adopted child necessarily have a legal right to know his or her birth parents? No. Do all of these children ache for what is being deprived them? Yes.

            Only marriage between a man and a woman can guarantee that a child will have a right to know and be provided for by his or her natural mom and dad. Even if those parents get divorced, that child still has rights to his mother and father although, that right can be sorely tested by divorce, which is why divorce is such a terrible thing.

            Redefining marriage for the sake of homosexuals does not “extend” this right to children. How do homosexuals have children? Primarily by assisted reproduction or surrogacy. Does the child have a right to know where he or she comes from in these circumstances? No.

            Likewise, every measure shows that mothers and fathers bring different gifts to the parenting table and children without one or the other suffer the loss. Homosexual couples cannot provide both mother and father to a child. Even if they adopt, everyone waits in the same line (and, contrary to conventional opinion there are enough prospective adoptive families for adoptable children) so a homosexual couple would just be robbing a child of the right to be raised by the mom AND dad standing next in line (same goes for single adoption). Homosexual “marriage” robs children of their right to be raise by their mother and father. Every other condition that does this to a child (divorce, abandonment…) is seen as a bad thing. Only when it comes to gay marriage is traumatizing a child by depriving them of a mother or father seen as a good thing.

  • Araghast

    A couple of things. Firstly the rights that you mention (the right of a child to know, and be cared for by their parents) are not only protected by marriage

    There is the United Nations Convention on the rights of a Child. Its a Human rights declaration that is currently Legally binding ( by international law) across almost the entire world (only somalia and the USA have yet to agree to be bound to uphold them, for their own reasons.

    Article seven of the convention reads as follows;
    “The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the
    right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as
    possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.”

    A simple google search for “un convention on the rights of a child” will provide you the ability to check it out for yourself.

    Furthermore I would ask to see the data you have that suggests that children are disadvantaged by same sex parents. Thats not a conclusion reached by the American Academy of Pediatrics (. Or the Canadian Psychological Association (to name 2 organisations).

    • Angel

      Araghast says: “Furthermore I would ask to see the data you have that suggests that children are disadvantaged by same sex parents. Thats not a conclusion reached by the American Academy of Pediatrics.”

      The AAP got their own agenda. You are very naive. Here is a cute little post for you:

      1975: A new scientific study claims that eggs are an unhealthy choice for breakfast and may in fact lead to heart disease.
      1985: In a new scientific study, eggs were found to be actually good for you.

      1995: Latest scientific research backs up earlier studies that eggs are unhealthy and may be responsible for up to 58% of all heart related deaths in America.
      2005: New research suggests that eggs may in fact be nature’s perfect food. Packed with protein and essential nutrients, in addition the cholesterol found in eggs may actually be beneficial!
      People, we need to end the Henny Penny, “Sky is falling” NONSENSE that is spoon-fed to us each day and use a little COMMON-SENSE instead!!-
      by Karel Kolchak

      • Araghast

        The ability to change one’s mind on a given topic isn’t grounds to just dismiss someone’s opinion on a matter.

    • Theodore Seeber

      A post I wrote for another forum from a quote from today’s proceedings:

      “In a similar vein, Justice Samuel Alito also urged caution, noting that gay marriage, as a concept, is “newer than cellphones and the Internet.””

      And that’s exactly what really bugs me. Church teaching aside, there is exactly ZERO data yet on long term gay marriage. At all. 9 years is not enough. 11 years is not enough.

      This concept is being pushed on everybody with NO real research or scientific basis. None at all. Even George Weinberg’s original research in the 1960s is plagued by accusations of bribery and political bias, let alone the more novel concepts the gay agenda has come out since the DSM-IIITR dropped homosexuality as a mental illness with almost no actual peer review or scientific debate.

      The whole history of the gay agenda is that of a group of people with a mental illness trying to get everybody else to claim that they are sane- and using tactics learned from dictatorships to do it, from redefining language to vilifying and even using violence against enemies.

      Let me know when there is something actually objective in this debate, because at this point, I’m turned off by the tactics used and utterly against being labeled a homphobe by a bunch of heterophobes.

      • Proteios1

        My jaw is on the floor. What an intelligent argument. I haven’t actually heard any except by those protecting marriage. The “new normal” crowd seems to use name calling and slander to silence opposition, not enlighten anyone.

  • Matt

    Bravo! A succinct and compelling defense.

  • Paul Rimmer

    Fair enough. Then society decides on a different way to raise its children and redefines marriage. If marriage is a social construct, then society can redefine it. The law simply reflects that change in society. Whether this is good or bad for children will be borne out in the statistics. As far as I know, it seems as though female-female parents are pretty good at raising children. At least as good as male-female parents. http://humrep.oxfordjournals.org/content/25/1/150.full

    • http://www.catholiccounselors.com Dr. Greg

      See my response under the “Erroneous Infertility/Post-Menopause Argument” post above where I address this specific question.

  • 1 Smart Mother

    This is the way I see it: No one has the “right” to get married. If I, a heterosexual female had such a right then the govt would be obliged to protect it ( which they are not, obviously). They would also have to provide me with a spouse if I could not get one on my own. No one has the right to marry the person they love. What if I love my brother, father, dog, a married man? I do not have the “right” to marry them simply because I love them.
    Besides all that, I thought the “gay lifestyle” was an “alternative lifestyle”. Isn’t that what we were told not too many years ago? Well, then, what is an alternative? It is something new or different vis a vis something which already exists. Let’s go with their argument that homosexuality is an alternative lifestyle. Then we can say that marriage and children have ALWAYS been a part of the “heterosexual lifestyle” and NEVER a part of the “homosexual lifestyle.” If it is an alternative to heterosexuality then there would be their own unique and alternative institutions, trappings, etc. for their lifestyle.
    God help us.

  • Doug

    I’m confused about the POV here.
    –Marriage should be given back to the church;
    –Marriage began as a natural institution (men and women deciding on their own to make a lifelong committment to each other);
    –Hammurabi (late 1700′s BC) distinguished it as separate and distinct from cohabiting, or same sex relationships, or hookups with temple prostitutes etc.
    –The Church, in particular, didn’t invent marriage
    –Marriage evolved.
    All this from a member of a church which claims to have given the Bible to the world. This Bible:
    “This rib, which he had taken out of Adam, the Lord God formed into a woman; and when he brought her to Adam, Adam said, Here, at last, is bone that comes from mine, flesh that comes from mine; it shall be called Woman, this thing that was taken out of Man. That is why a man is destined to leave father and mother, and cling to his wife instead, so that the two become one flesh.”
    And this one:
    “He answered, Have you never read, how he who created them, when they first came to be, created them male and female; and how he said, A man, therefore, will leave his father and mother and will cling to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?”
    “when he brought her to Adam” sounds very much like a wedding; Adam’s response likewise. Like Spanish, Hebrew is a gendered language, so the man/woman bit is unambiguous.
    What’s to argue, for a Christian? What’s to worry, if there’s a God?

    • http://www.catholiccounselors.com Dr. Greg

      Perhaps you should read the post. I did NOT say marriage should be given back to the Church. I said it was silly to say that marriage should be given back to the Church.

      You’ll need to be clearer about the rest of your post if you want a response. Your post doesn’t make any sense.

  • patricia

    I didn’t read all the other posts..too much… I want you to address the Commandment (of the TEN Commandments) the 6th..lThou Shalt not commit adultry. Where does that commandment fit into. Marriage…which is a Sacrament in the Catholic Church. Seems to me that 6th commandment had much meaning as far as a nuptual agreement. Am I being ignorant?

    • http://www.catholiccounselors.com Dr. Greg

      Yes. But Moses received the Ten Commandments in the 1200′s BC. Marriage had already been codified as a social insitution for at least 600 years before that with Hammurabi in the 1800′s BC.

  • Guest

    To be clear, I believe in a traditional Catholic understanding of marriage. I think marriage carries both a spiritual/religious meaning and a purely practical societal one. Sometimes I wish there was a way of distinguishing between the two publically (like matrimony vs marriage) and I would like to see churches get out of the business of performing marriages for the state – more like the European model of two marriage ceremonies.

    I’m not so sure that the legal distinctions are as altruistic toward children as you imply. Frankly I think they are basically about money, inheritance, responsibility of parents for their raising children (which were largely seen as property of the parents for eons), deciding who/when /which people can marry. Modern society granted financial ‘rewards’, primarily tax rewards, to married couples because society recognized that it was expensive and labor intensive to raise and educate and train the next generation and that doing so within the context of a stable family worked the best for the future good of the state. If society (the state) had thought it was best to take children from parents once weaned and place them in gov’t institutions to be raised, educated, and trained by the state that’s what gov’t would have rewarded. Don’t ever look to the gov’t to be altruistic.