Love and Marriage…

…go together like a horse and carriage… (or even a surrey with the fringe on top?)

In a thread on the lesbians next door I said they were living a lie, and my observation evoked this comment: 

Father, with due respect, in the couple’s eyes, it’s not a lie at all. They believe (one would assume) that marriage is a lifelong committment of a loving, monogamous couple, a committment that involves respect, support, love — all the things that many, many couples (religious and nonreligious alike) intend when they get married.

Whoa! Stop the carriage. Here’s the problem. It’s all tied up in the definition of marriage.

The homosexual couple, along with many in our society, assume marriage is a lifelong, loving commitment of a loving monogamous couple, a commitment that involves respect, support and love.

But that is not the essential definition of marriage. Notice that it is largely subjective and sentimental. Marriage requires ‘respect, love and support.’ Yes indeed, and we do not deny the need for ‘respect, love and support’, however, these are requirements for a good marriage, they are not the core definition of marriage.

The essential definition of marriage is that it is a contract between one man and one woman for mutual support and procreation of children, and the marriage is sealed and validated by the conjugal act.

Now this definition is not something that is simply my opinion. It is not even something which is my opinion supported by Divine Revelation in Scripture. It is not even my opinion, supported by Scripture and upheld by the magisterium of the Catholic Church. It is actually a definition that is written into the biological realities of the human race. It is something called ‘natural law’–that is, it is written into the operating system of the entire cosmos.

As such, this is the definition of marriage upheld not only by a few religious folks in the USA, but by the vast majority of the whole human race at all times and in all places. The details may vary–some cultures allow polygamy. Others allow divorce and remarriage, but all understand that marriage is between a man and a woman for mutual support and procreation.

Marriage therefore cannot be contracted between two men or two women. They might make a legal contract committing themselves to mutual support, friendship, lifelong exclusive love, sharing the same teddy bear, whatever they like, but its not marriage and never can be.
What are we to do with such folks in our society? We mustn’t be bigots. All lesbians are not female leather clad bikers with hairy armpits. All homosexual are not interior designers with limp wrists. Are they nice people? Do they have good manners? Are they funny, fun, creative, intelligent and talented? Do they send Christmas cards to their neighbors, shop at the Mall, like Thomas Kinkaid paintings? Do they fly the flag and like puppies and kittens? Do they go to church? Are they spiritual people? Do they pray and tithe and read their Bible? Maybe so, and its wonderful if they do.

But none of that has anything to do with the objective fact that homosexuality is a disorder and they can’t be married. Are other people down the road sinners too? Of course. We are all disordered in one way or another. If others live in public immorality we educate our children about them too, and we do so with objectivity, compassion, a sense of humor and the awareness that there are other sinners who lives even closer than the folks down the road: ourselves.
The fact that we are all sinners and hypocrites does not preclude the necessity for correct moral judgements, otherwise how would we know that we are all sinners and hypocrites?

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  • Bless you Father.

  • Fr.,With the beginning of legalized widespread use of contraception in the 1960s, society changed the definition of marriage so much that few people would recognize the truth as you lay it out. Marriage in our society has (wrongly) become all about monogamy and feelings. It has become a contract of “I won’t sleep with anyone else if you don’t”. A kind of “going steady” if you will. When we changed the definition of womanhood via contraception, we also changed the definition of marriage. So, perhaps the first thing we need to tackle is what it means to be authentically female and male. We lost that understanding at the same point in time tat we became each other’s sexual play toys.Just my $.02,the Mom

  • Thanks Mom.

  • Technically same sex relations are not even sex because, in the biological sense, sex refers to the blending of gametes in meiosis at the start of sexual reproduction. Of course culturally the meaning of such words are broader and as part of the cultural battle the term “marriage” is being redefined.

  • Excelent Post Fr. Longnecker I couldn’t agree more, except for the Thomas Kinkade comment, that my good padre is a mistake, his paintings are a sin against good art 😛

  • I know. I dislike Kinkade too. It was meant to show that these folks might be sweet and cuddly…

  • Fr., Given your definition of marriage (i.e., …that it is a contract between one man and one woman for mutual support and procreation of children…) my husband and I should never have gotten married. After all, what’s the point. He was 48 and I was 46. Odds were very good that we weren’t going to procreate. We should have just forgone the marriage and lived together. Unfortunately for society, we loved each other and wanted to commit to one another in front of our friends and family. Marriage has certain legal implications that can’t be ignored. Gay couples should be afforded the same opportunity to be legally recognized as straight couples. if the eyes of the church choose to ignore this, so be it. However, if procreation is the church’s criteria for marriage, then all marriages that don’t produce children should be invalidated…quite a ridiculous idea. And does the procreation have to be “natural”? Are couples allows to use medical intervention or to adopt to become parents? If so, your line for marriage once again becomes blurred, opening it up to gay couples.

  • llawson, thank you for your comment. The definition of marriage I gave is the default setting. Your marriage was only infertile by the fact of your age, not the fact of you being the same gender. Marriage is between a man and a woman. That is the first line of the definition. Its purpose is unitive and creative. That’s the second, and subsidiary line of the definition.Yours was a marriage because it was between a man and a woman. A union between two men or two women is not a marriage. It may be beneficial. It may be legal. It may be a ‘good’ thing in a way, but it is not marriage.

  • You are on a roll, Father – I feel a book coming on?

  • Well I am working on a couple of books, as it happens–but not primarily on marriage. I’m writing my conversion story. Working title: There and Back Again.I wanted to call it Done Roman, but thought Scott Hahn had cornered the market on conversion stories with corny pun titles.

  • This is properly joined up thinking (a phrase I loathe, because it is usually meaningless) but in this case, entirely appropriate. It is all linked: artifical contraception, polygamy/adultery, abortion, same sex unions. Once you remove the identity and the purpose, confusion reigns. And we know who is the author of confusion.There is definitely a book in this, or at the very least the next installment: Moral mess 3. This could be a tricky one….

  • Father, I wonder if you might not be begging the question. It seems to me the question at hand is, “What’s the definition of marriage?” or “What constitutes a marriage?” Those are clearly the question with which western cultures are wrestling at the moment. And you have decided to solve the problem by stating — without room for any other arguments — that marriage is, by definition, always a union between a man and a woman. Yet that is indeed the very custom that is being questioned and renegotiated. No one I know would deny that historically, marriage has been defined – almost without question– as heterosexual in nature. Yet institutions do evolve. The best analogy that comes to mind at the moment is Greek democracy. Prior to those experiments in democracy, the “default” answer to “What is the proper form of governance?” would have been something like, “The divinely appointed ruler – of course.” Initially, I suppose, no one could imagine anything else. Yet institutions do evolve, as do bodies of law. Slavery was at one time or another an esteemed institution in various parts of the world – and a constitutionally enshrined “peculiar institution” in the U.S. – but our attitudes toward and definitions of cultural practices and institutions change. I’m sure I sound like a relativist here, but I don’t see how you can reasonably win the argument by saying, essentially, that the definition of marriage must forever remain one-man/one-woman because it has always been one-man/one-woman. Begging the question, sounds like to me.Steve

  • Fr. Longnecker,Let the Church say, “Amen.”

  • The fact that the definition of marriage has changed (or, more accurately, has been corrupted) will be the very reason for the widespread legalization of gay marriage. Given that the popular definition of marriage is now a convenience, a nice way to mark your long-term relationship with a party, a selfish arrangement wherein your “spouse” complements you and supports your ambitions, how can it be legally refused to gays? (Or, how can it continue to be legally refused for long?) Why wouldn’t gays want to be married if that’s all heterosexual marriage is? They want what we have because it’s all the fun and none of the “serving others” work that it was to previous generations.The way to combat gay marriage is to reclaim the definition of (heterosexual) marriage. If marriage could ever be restored in Western culture as an institution primarily for the purpose of childbearing, then it’s made wholly unattractive to gays.Basically, the Catholic fight against gay marriage can be summed up in a pithy little tenet that applies to much of life: You can’t control what others do. Just put your own house in order and good things will follow.

  • Sex (or for others, ‘gender’): the common identity (that we did not give ourselves) that transcends all cultures, all “orientations”, all minorities and all majorities. There is a total of two of them, and the joining of one of each of them forms a unit we call marriage that is then ‘sundered’ from all others, yet retains within it, the universality of ‘one man; one woman’. Marriage is the one institution that is already totally inclusive. It is not a cultural ‘phenomenon’ but a cultural foundation.Marriage does not rest with sexual orientation but with sex.

  • You’re absolutely spot-on Fr.! I cann’t aggree more with you. Though a bit politically incorrect, what you said is simply sensible, objective and true. I cann’t agree more with you…Muchas gracias!

  • When to shun and not to shun is really the question. I don’t think it is right to shun homosexual couples or their children.1. The church almost never approves of ShunningI’m currently shunning my sibling, and I haven’t had a single priest condone it. It’s been a year now. He procured an abortion and tried to demand I approve of it. After a series of escalations and his arrogant disdain for my father, combined with an obvious sibling rivalry (an unhealthy one) and radically different value systems, I’ve decided that further communications are proximal to sin regardless of my pastor’s advice. For now anyway. My point is that in any other circumstance pastors and the church will almost never approve shunning.2. This is singling out one particular sinOur recognition of protestant marriages are probably limited. Yet we do not shun protestant couples. We may have an inkling that someone is committing adultery, but we do not shun their children. We do not shun the divorced, the drunks, or the gluttons – or their children. It is obvious that there are fat priests and bishops in our midsts, we do not shun them.So it strikes me as wrong to single out this sin for neighborly shunning.3. Most gay couples are not intentionally overt.They are not waving a sign in your face just by being gay and being in a relationship. The catechism already recognizes the heavy cross of homosecuality and forbids us from being cruel to homosexuals. The choice for a gay couple to live together is no worse than an unmarried straight couple, a protestant straight couple, or a straight couple that has oral or non-procreative sex (which includes most of our neighbors). It is difficult to say whether or not gluttons or those indulging in occasional innebriation with alcohol sin more or less than a gay couple. I don’t know the answers to those sorts of questions. But unless a gay couple were handling out pamphlets I am not sure they are being overt beyond what an obese person does just by the fact that they cannot hide their sin.4. ‘Validation’All that being said, the gay community uses this word validation and I have noted that you have used it as well. I think I can agree that catholics are called not to ‘validate’ public sin with overt approval.5. Proposed solution It seems to me that the obvious solution to this is to make it clear to your child and to the parent in question that you are no more judgemental of them than you are of your own shortcomings but that as catholics we are called by our faith not to ‘validate’ homosexual marriage by overt approval. So long as they do not ask for overt approval, all is well. Letting two children play together is not an overt approval of their parents’ behavior, whatever their children might indulge in – eg. divorce, alcohol, whatever.*Disclaimer: I think I remember that protestant marriages have been recognized for some time now. Makes a good example though.

  • Book Title: Suggest it should be something that resonates deeply with the British south, the english civil war, cavaliers, and the whole Hentry the VIII thing. So Scott Hahn has Rome Sweet Home, maybe your story should be something along the lines of ‘Bringing Canterbury Home’. Or Greenville. Or something like that. Or how about ‘The Romans are Coming! – A Southern Protestants Conversion Story’.

  • Fr L – a slight flaw in your logicThe essential definition of marriage is that it is a contract between one man and one woman for mutual support and procreation of children, and the marriage is sealed and validated by the conjugal act.No this is not true. Twilight marriages of the elderly have been permitted for a long time now, perhaps 100 years. They have no hope of procreating naturally. Therefore this definition is defunct.

  • Marcus, please read the definition closely. I said the ‘essential’ definition of marriage. Of course there are exceptions where marriage does not fulfill these criteria, however, they are not the basic and essential examples of marriage, but the exception to the essential definition.We do not disprove essential definitions by providing exceptions. The essential definition of a biped is that they have two legs. An amputee is still a biped–even though he has one or both legs amputated.The fact that there are amuptees does not disprove the essential definition of a biped. Rather it proves the essential definition by its lack.

  • marcus–there may be some misunderstading of my use of the word ‘essential’. By this you may have understood me to mean ‘necessary’. I was using the word to indicate not ‘necessary’ but ‘of the essence’.

  • Steve: Father is not “begging the question.” Rather, your examples are non sequitur.The definition of something (a definition that you admit has been held) is just that, a definition. Something else can be like it but if it does not satisfy the definition then it is not that. I can serve you a bowl of dung and call it chocolate ice-cream but it still will not be chocolate ice-cream even though I call it that.Further, your analogy is specious. The definition of government is not monarchy; rather monarchy is a type of government. A more accurate analogy would be to create a democracy and try to call it a monarchy. By-the-by, the idea of divinely appointed kings is a development of the Middle Ages; the ancient world had divine kings (i.e. Pharaoh = Ra).James G

  • Fr L – Let’s go back to your original statement:The essential definition of marriage is that it is a contract between one man and one woman for mutual support and procreation of children, and the marriage is sealed and validated by the conjugal act.So if we read this as you have suggested it to be in the ‘essence of’ or ‘in the spirit of’ procreation I think we still run into a whole host of problems. This is why the church was reluctant to condone twilight marriages in the first place. They bring unitive comfort to those engaged in them, but have no procreative value. Since the elderly donate so much time and money to the church it is generally a very bad idea to run about telling them that they are living in sin for having sex after menopause. Regardless of the pragmatic aspect, the church has declared that post menopausal sexual activity is still ‘open’ to life should it miraculously occur, and that therefore twilight marriages are OK. Furthermore, Pope B16’s encyclical confirms the value and importance of the unitive, not just the procreative value of sexual congress.But by this rational, a gay couple could in fact indulge in unitive intercourse so long as they are open to a miraculous new life. This is not sophistry, but simple logic. And what follows is the realization that the natural law argument detailed in article 6 of the catechism folds in on itself. The very stoic article is not directly derived from scripture – it is the culmination of church tradition and teaching over a long time distilled into a natural law argument that justifies sexual passion by procreation and unitive good in harmony. But no where else is an ethical and moral good required to have two good outcomes in order to be good.In my humble opinion the holy spirit will slowly guide the church away from this perception that human sexuality is only good if it is doubly justified with two good outcomes. The occurence of gay neighbors and coworkers places the catholic squarely in the crossfire of this reasoning in a way that straight catholics never really were before. Now a straight person has to seriously think through article 6 and how they are to react and treat their neighbors.I will continue to struggle towards sacred assent and obedience to the teachins in article 6, but I do believe that the holy spirit will eventually inform the hearts of the bishops that unitive good alone redeems human sexuality. All passions are bad to stoice and perhaps buddhists, not to catholics. While I think Roman Catholicism has been strongly influenced by the stoics, we are not stoics in the end. Unitive sexuality is good for elderly married couples and it may also be good for monogamous married gays (if there are truly monogamous ones around which remains to be seen). But I will obey my church and operate under the assumption it is evil. I certainly can’t condone reacting any differently to the children of gays than I would to the children of gluttons, which is to say I don’t intend to treat gays any differently than I would straights. I entertain the notion that the church might someday change her mind about this one, but I will make it clear to people that I will not validate or condone gay marriage. The church sees this relationship as a dead end.It is interesting that gays themselves are very torn about this issue. Some are celibates and join groups like church-supported groups like Courage, or become priests and religious. They say 40% of catholic priests are gay in fact. Others argue strongly for gay rights to marriage and so forth. There is an extent to which I am waiting for the gays themselves to figure this out, particularly if 40% of priests are gay. They ought to be in a good position to tell us straight folks the truth of the matter.Much of this would be solved if the state would butt out and issue civil unions to straights and gays, leaving true marriage up to the church. My marriage certificate says ‘Holy Bonds of Matrimony’ across the top of it, which has always annoyed me since it is issued by a secular state.

  • James, I’m operating on the premise that all human language is culturally constructed; that is, words’ denotations are not handed down from above, but arise out of and within a given culture. (There’s some play, over decades and centuries, between connotation and denotation.) That’s why some definitions in an unabridged dictionary (the OED, for example) become more prominent over the decades, and other definitions are relegated to “archaic” usage in that same dictionary. Language is used to capture, describe, elements of human culture. It is not (and never has been) static, frozen, carved in stone. Definitions change with time. Not months nor years, really, but over the course of decades and centuries.I don’t mean to imply that the most common, most easily agreed upon definition of “marriage” will give way altogether within a matter of years or even a few decades. But the point I was making in my response to Fr. Longnecker was that one can’t expect to win this argument, or any argument, by stating, essentially, that “R shall always be defined as XYZ because R has always been considered to be XYZ.” Our culture is wrestling with whether it will (and how it will) redefine marriage. Pretending that an historical understanding of an institution is the only way to define that institution’s future is problematic at best, disingenous at worst.Peace.Steve

  • Steve, the definition of marriage is not a human construct, but arises from the nature of male and female and human biology.Its not real complicated. Males mate with females and make babies. They live together for the nurture and protection of those babies. This is where marriage comes from. Sure, it becomes more complex once you weave in the legal and sacramental elements, but the essential definition of marriage is biological and therefore the fact that it is between a man and woman is not a variable.Other sorts of relationships may certainly be formed, and even legally validated, but they are not marriage.

  • Father, you’ve stated:”the essential definition of marriage is biological…”Others disagree. Many people see other elements as having a more profound role in a marriage. Otherwise, we have “mating” as playing a more prominent role in marriage than, say, love and respect. I would argue that mating is mighty good (really, truly, it is!), but love and commitment are more essential to marriage. Otherwise — why not call the marriage finished (from a sacremental or at least legal standpoint) when the last offspring has flown the nest or, heaven forbid, died? Surely love must be the real essential in marriage — at least in many, many people’s eyes. Steve(a pro-marriage Catholic who loves his wife and has no problem with other people loving their spouses, regardless of gender)

  • Martin Luther and the German princes seeking to destroy the Church, took marriage out of the church and gave it to the government to administer as a civil contract.Contracts are not God-revealed, but socially negotiated and renegotiable. So if society decides I can “marry” my three cats, great, I’ll get the tax deduction. (Because after all, it’s ALL ABOUT taxes and Social Security benefits. It’s the money, honey.)When heterosexuals rent asunder the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage and conjugal acts, through massive and widespread artificial contraception, then it became endorsed and acceptable to have unitive nonprocreative unions. Without total self-giving, why bother with marriage? Or physical adulthood? Or being of the same species? Or even alive?So you get shackups, child sexual abuse and child pornography, bestiality, and people who “love” their cars.Whatever gets your rocks off!What was Jesus’ answer? In the beginning it was not so. Bereshit. Genesis. I am God and I made you and it wasn’t meant to be this way. Come back to me and find wholeness and healing and re-enter the Garden.