Clarifying Marriage

Previous posts on homosexuality have raised some interesting discussions in the combox. What interests me is how some readers who are Catholic have such a non-Catholic understanding of marriage.

We are told that because George and Harry love one another and are committed to one another that this is the same thing as marriage and that they should therefore be allowed to be married.

However, romantic or erotic feelings of love are not the criteria for a valid marriage, nor are they pre-requisites. An arranged marriage in which there is no subjective erotic or romantic feelings of ‘love’ as popularly understood, would be a valid marriage (and if the history of humanity has anything to say about it–may end up be a very good marriage). Neither can feelings of ‘love’ be the sole criteria to justify for an action.  Note the adulterer who ceases to ‘love’ his wife and leaves her because he ‘loves’ his mistress. Regard the ethnic cleanser who ‘loves’ his country so much that he kills its enemies. Don’t misunderstand the argument–I’m not degrading love or saying it is a bad thing. I’m saying the romantic and erotic feelings we call ‘love’ are not what validates a marriage (or any other action). Moral judgements are made on more solid factors.

For Catholics, marriage is a sacramental covenant which springs from the order of creation. God created the mystery of man and woman. “For this reason a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife.” The nuptial relationship is bound up in the natural complementarity of the sexes and the intimacy between man and wife is part of this profound natural order, and from this intimacy new human life is created. The commitment that is expected within this marriage is one that reflects the eternal commitment of God to his people.

Thus St Paul speaks of the love that Christ has for his church and compares it to marriage. Christ is the bridegroom and the church the bride. Christ penetrates the Church with the dart of longing love which is the Holy Spirit. From this intimate union of love a new order of creation is brought forth. Because of the eternal, life giving nature of this covenant between Christ and his Church we believe that marriage is also a life long covenant between male and female.

We should be clear about certain things: to affirm marriage in this way is (by definition) to reject homosexual unions as equivalent. Nevertheless, it is possible to affirm that two men or two women might love one another very deeply. They may have a lifelong partnership and deep commitment. That friendship and commitment may be noble and good and true and self sacrificial. This is what the church has termed ‘friendship.’

However, the church has also rejected any idea that this friendship should be expressed through sodomy, and it (along with every other civilized society–even those that accepted homosexuality) have never pretended that such friendships were equivalent to marriage.

The reason people in our society push for homosexual marriage is therefore, a misunderstanding of what marriage is. Too many believe that marriage is the final culmination of a romantic and erotic relationship. They see marriage not only as a desirable contract of commitment, but most of all, they see marriage as a societal (and ultimately religious) validation of their chosen sexual behaviors.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11740482509910163332 Gail F

    One long conversation I had about this topic with an Episcopalian began with her arguing just what you said: That marriage is based on love. I replied just as you did: That love is not a requirement for marriage, and that until very recently in the West — and right now, in many parts of the world — people married for plenty of other reasons, sometimes without even meeting each other first! But they were and are all married. She responded, "Ah but now in our country you have to admit that love is considered the number one criterion." I replied that even if this was true — and I think a lot more people who aren't "in love" get married in our country than generally imagined — what does that have to do with the rest of the world? How can you redefine marriage for everyone based on the current mores of your country and your culture? (The Episcopal Church s trying to do just this.) Sadly, no one seems to be convinced by this very rational argument. She said "well, it's just not fair…" and the discussion went downhill from there. You can't argue with people who go only by their emotions. Because her emotions toward certain gay people she knows are much stronger than her emotions for millions of fellow Anglicans she doesn't. It just turns into a matter of "what do you feel more strongly about?" which doesn't go anywhere.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12746127431922685446 JD Curtis

    well, it's just not fair…I feel for you. There is absolutely nothing ptrventing any couple, homosexual or otherwise, from entering into an agreement to be exclusively involved with one another, Zippo. Zero. Nada. It's all about changing the definition of a word (marriage) whereby what has classically been understood to be an exclusive relationship to one that is 'open', introducing the Orwellian concept of 'serial monogamy'.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12746127431922685446 JD Curtis

    "Now let's look at the facts. We will define a tolerant society where homogamy or civil unions are recognized; here are six tolerant societies: Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, France, Sweden, the Netherlands. Next we will define moderate religious society, where homosexuality is generally considered to be wrong, but not illegal: Ireland, USA, Italy, Mexico, Honduras, Paraguay. And finally, we will define an intolerant society as one where homosexuality is illegal: Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Libya, Cameroon, Kenya, Uganda.According to the World Health Organization, the average male suicide rate for tolerant secular societies is 21.6 per 100,000. The average male suicide rate for moderate religious societies is 9.6 per 100,000. And the average male suicide rate for intolerant societies is unknown because as it turns out, none of them publicly report suicide rates. However, in searching for these unreported rates, I did find a study that reported primary indicators of high societal suicide rates that can be used to estimate them; perhaps one day I'll see about doing so for these countries.One of the only countries where the specific issue has been studied is in the heavily secular and tolerant country of Norway where 20% of gay men between the ages of 16-24 attempt suicide at least once. It would appear highly unreasonable to attempt to blame either James Dobson or intolerant Southern Baptists for the self-destructive actions of young gay atheist Norwegians." Link

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02300536931993067125 Alfred

    In the time and place that we occupy, for better or for worse, marriage has come to be understood in personalist terms. It is an innovation, but it is one that the church helped bring about by placing such a large emphasis on the intention of the spouses. In the past marriage was understood very differently, in some cultures it was a business transaction, the passing of property, we also have polygamy, polyandry, which also don't quite meet anatomically the one man/one woman criterion, as most men typically only have one, err, member. We also have in Indian culture the practice of the widow being expected to throw herself on her husband's funeral pyre, the Roman Pater Familius having his wife's life in his complete power, etc. Many of 'objective' 'traditional' characteristics of marriage would be denied today, and would be considered to belong more to the category of slavery than marriage. In our culture it is unintelligible to talk about marriage in any way other than that of the choice of two individuals grounded in their desire and freedom. Intention, desire and freedom have not historically been seen as a part of marriage (especially when it came to the woman), but it is an innovation that the church had a role in bringing about. Homosexual marriage is a natural development of this innovation. Once you deny the possibility of coercion and external obligation for protracting a marriage, freedom and personal choice become the defining characteristics.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08198939874801282568 Stuart James

    ….but most of all, they see marriage as a societal (and ultimately religious) validation of their chosen sexual behaviors.Oh this is the crux Fr; this is the rub.They want validation, and they want it from the church.You have absolutely nailed it.If they can receive affirmation of their sin, via the church, they have achieved their goal.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17284905121465747077 Steve

    Two things, Father. First, part of what you do not seem to get is that many of us who champion marriage equality are speaking first and foremost (if not entirely) of marriage in civil law. Yes, marriage is a sacrament. I'm in a sacramental marriage myself. I believe in my marriage sacrament. I try to live it. Some days I live it better than others. I always need to work with my wife's help and God's grace to be a better husband. Yet there is most certainly a concept of marriage as a civil entity as well. That's what the "gay marriage" debate is about–equality under civil law. You and the Catholic hierarchy oppose that: I realize that. But your opposition to it, and the reasons that you offer against marriage equality in civil law, is based on concepts other than due process and equal rights in civil law. You make canon law and "natural law" arguments when the issue is civil law. (Yeah, I realize "natural law" is an age-old concept. But it is not at all an objective concept. Reasonable people can and do disagree about what constitutes natural law. Natural law has been used to defend everything from race-based slavery to the subjugation of women and prohibitions in past centuries on women owning property, attending university, or serving on juries. Your take on what qualifies as the verdict of "natural law" is not the final word. Neither is my take, of course.)Second point: You've accused others (me too, if I recall) of logical fallacies in our arguments, including the use of red herrings. But what about your repeated harpings on people who are bad actors, morally speaking–e.g., the wanton adulterer who claims he "loves" his mistress, the genocidal dictator who wants to wipe out millions of people out of "love" for his own race. Sorry. You can't equate Sally and Maggie, that couple who love each other in ways that are as deep and complex as the way you love your wife, with The Governator (he of many affairs) or Milosevic (he of much bloodshed). That tact is a big red herring: a big distraction from significant questions involving real people, people who aren't cheating on their spousses nor are killing a huge populace. You purchased a bad load of logic, Father, and you might just want to return it and get your money back. It's not of much use for your argument and it's kind of starting to smell bad.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05003640516890793019 Savia

    Steve,Do you have evidence to prove that natural law was used to justify all the things you claim?When Christianity was legalized in the Byzantine Empire, the following practices were outlawed.Slavery, fathers selling their daughters, cultic prostitution, polygyny, infanticide, homosexuality.The Byzantine empire was not stupid.These were the arguments made by the Justinian code.http://www.humanistictexts.org/justinian.htm#_Toc483882741What makes you think that if we go back to one of these, the rest will not take place too?Let's see we don't have cultic prostitution, but have legal one in many countries. We also have pornography, high divorce rates, abortion, human trafficking, euthanasia, etc etc.In short a culture of death.The issue is not about homosexual as people as much as sexual ethics and marriage.People no longer think these things apply, due to moral relativism.The OT purity laws actually made a distinction between life and death. The blood shed in hunting, killing, war, was death.The blood shed in childbirth, the first sexual intercourse was life.A baby goat was not to be boiled in it's mother's milk. To make a distinction between life and death.Only Orthodox Jews today keep these distinctions.Christianity forbade abortion, because it mixed life blood death with birth blood life. Blurring distinctions between life and death.Gay sex is anti-life.People often accuse the church of promoting homophobia in Africa, but forget that African cultures in general are opposed to these things.This explains why it was the African churches that have differed in the Anglican communion and still remain defiant on this issue.The Bible is set in the Afro-Asiatic worldview.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr Longenecker

    Steve, the proponents of civil unions for homosexuals want it to be 'marriage' they want white dresses and tuxedos and champagne and wedding bells. They also want churches. That is why the next step after achieving civil unions is to call them 'marriages' and the next step after that is to have the 'marriages' in church and the next step after that is to legislate that no church can refuse such unions.Do you seriously think the homosexual activists will stop at having 'civil unions'? Of course not, because for a long time now they could have achieved 'civil unions' through legal contracts if they wanted. This is not what they want. They want to be married in church and they want Christians to accept their re-definition of marriage.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    Thank you for this!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17284905121465747077 Steve

    Savia, you've argued that Christianity was responsible for slavery being outlawed in ancient times when Christianity became the official state religion. If you want to give Christianity the credit for that, go for it. However, you also need to acknowledge that the race-based slave trade from roughly the 1500s to the first third of the 1800s (that is, the enslavement of those of African descent for use as forced laborers in the Americas, including the American colonies/United States) was often defended and advanced by proponents of Christianity…and in the name of Christianity. (There were other folks, as you well know, who were abolitionists, and many of them were motivated thankfully by their Christian beliefs. But you can't claim only the abolitionists as the "Christian" actors in that tragedy. Much evil was done during the era of legalized slavery in the name of Christianity. An awful perversion of Christianity, actually, yet a popular one at the time.)One last response to your response. I never cease to be amazed at the wide array of bad things that some folks are willing to blame on people who are gay and lesbian. Jerry Falwell saw fit, within the first 24 hours of the September 11 attacks, to blame terrorism on the actions of gays, lesbians, and feminists. You, on the other hand, have included abortion as something that is the result of homosexuality. Weird. It's the anti-equal rights crowd that always goes out of its way to point out that gays and lesbians have to go out of their way (e.g., surrogacy or assisted reproduction methods) to procreate. Yet you want to blame abortion on them…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17284905121465747077 Steve

    Fr. L, a very similar argument was used against Blacks who demanded equal rights, equal treatment under the law, in the 1950s and '60s. ("Next thing you know, they're gonna want to live next to you…they're gonna want to date your children! They're gonna want to go to the parochial school you've retreated to!") You're afraid, Father, that the state will tell you whom you must marry. Can you cite for me, please, when a judge or a sheriff came to your door and forced you to marry a couple who wanted a Catholic wedding despite their multiple divorces and lack of annulments? When it was it that such a thing last occurred in your diocese? Or in any diocese? When were you last forced by civil authorities to marry a straight couple that was cohabitating? That's happened frequently in this country, has it? Guess we must pass laws against divorced people and cohabiting people marrying under civil law, since your freedom as a priest evidently would be imperiled if they were allowed to get married by a county judge or a UCC minister, right? If you don't want to marry them, we must ban everyone from marrying them–because you'll feel way better about the situation that way. Hmm.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12746127431922685446 JD Curtis

    You're afraid, Father, that the state will tell you whom you must marrySteve, this was as difficult as typing the words [Clergy could be sued if they refuse to carry out ‘gay marriages’] into a common search engine.Clergy could be sued if they refuse to carry out ‘gay marriages’

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12746127431922685446 JD Curtis

    Baptist Church Sued When Active Homosexual Barred from Wedding Party"Tamara Bourgeois, 29, and Jerry Condie, 34, were to marry in June 2007 at Sovereign Grace Community Church and have told the Observer that they are considering legal action against Pastor Glenn Tomlinson when he refused to allow an active homosexual to be part of the wedding party. Tomlinson said he believes that allowing an unrepentant homosexual in the ceremony is tantamount to sanctioning homosexuality. “I’m OK with a gay person attending in the congregation. We are all sinners,” Tomlinson told The Observer. “But the key to me is that a gay man is standing up in an official capacity. If we allowed that, we’d be sanctioning something in the actual ceremony.” Link

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17284905121465747077 Steve

    Right. Anyone can file a lawsuit. We all knew that, didn't we? That's what you've proven. Where exactly has such a lawsuit against a church, synagogue, or mosque in the U.S. been decided in favor of the plaintiff (the same-sex couple seeking a "forced" church wedding) rather than on behalf of the defendant (the church)?I can file a suit next Monday against my public library for not providing me with borrowing rights to the original Shakespeare folios. Doesn't mean there's any likelihood of my winning the case or the case even going very far in the court system. Again: Where's the evidence that the Catholic church (or ANY church) has been forced by law to marry divorced people? Those folks have been wanting Catholic weddings far longer than gay folks. In what county of what state has a judge forced a priest or rabbi's hand and made him/her marry a divorced couple? Lots of divorced people have good attorneys; nonetheless, you have no evidence of any sheriff any place making the minister marry them? Or has that actually occurred someplace in this country?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17284905121465747077 Steve

    By the way, J.D., that article you linked to is about how "traditionalists [in the U.K.] fear" they might be sued. In other words, the arch-conservatives in the United Kingdom share your fears. That's not a convincing argument, however, that Britain WILL actually force ministers (under law) to marry particular types of couples. Much less that sheriffs in the U.S. will force ministers to marry couples they don't feel should be married. No evidence that such a thing has ever happened in the U.S., as far as I can see.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07806827231748991885 Sam Urfer

    "Marriage, as an institution of nature, is essentially a contract – a contract between a man and a woman, whereby they give to one another the right to use one another's bodies for the procreation of children." – "My Way of Life" by Walter Farrell, O. P. in the section on marriage, summarizing St. Thomas' SummaPeople harp on the fact that the infertile (like the biblical Hannah) and the elderly (like Sarah or Elizabeth) can get married, so gays should too. But, this is important, the Church doesn't let the impotent get married, as they cannot even partially accomplish the act of procreation. Marriage is, by definition, heterosexual. That people question that is a sad effect of our culture's rejection of reality, as predicted by the late great Paul VI. I was born nearly twenty years after Humanae Vitae, but it remains one of the most prophetic works of our time.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07806827231748991885 Sam Urfer

    I shouldn't say "let". The impotent cannot be validly married, as they cannot procreate, as with gay unions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12746127431922685446 JD Curtis

    Steve, exactly where did you get this perfect knowledge of yours to discern that the church will never be held to be at fault for refusing to perform such ceremonies?All it takes is one court to set precedent. One Methodist church organization in NJ was stripped of their tax-exempt status for not allowing a lesbian ceremony to take place at their oceanside pavilion. Link.I would argue that such changes are incremental. You resort to the imagery of a judge or policeman forcing a minister to perform a ceremony but conveniently leave out slip-and-fall-lawyers out to make a buck on whatever cause they can. Such lawsuits can have a devastating affect.I would be willing to concede that it's possible you are right about such pressure never coming to bear on clergy or religious organizations. But I doubt that you are correct in this matter.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05003640516890793019 Savia

    Steve,I know Christianity was used to support Slavery. I just asked you to give me the evidence to prove, that the the natural law was used to support these things.The ancient churches do not subscribe to Sola Scriptura.You are confusing personal opinions with official teachings.In the Anglo-American legal tradition, civil marriage was defined as the conjugal union of a man and a woman, based on organic bodily unity.This is very different from what the pro-gay marriage crowd is arguing for.I am not saying there is a link between abortion and homosexuality. I am just saying that they are both anti-life.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12746127431922685446 JD Curtis

    a very similar argument was used against Blacks who demanded equal rights, equal treatment under the law, in the 1950s and '60sSimply steer me towards the counseling agency that is currently helping those struggling with being 'formally black' and I will concede that this has any relevence at all.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05003640516890793019 Savia

    Steve,There are church groups being lobbied by gay activists into pushing gay marriage.Gay Anglican Organization Received Public Cash for Church of Ireland Lobbyists http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=14926

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17284905121465747077 Steve

    Savia, that's a totally different issue than allowing marriage equality under civil law. Groups are free to lobby different denominations as they please; that still leaves it up to the denomination (the people in the pews and the hierarchy) to do as it pleases. There are, as you know, ultra-traditionalists who are lobbying the Vatican to bring back communion rails and bar female altar servers, in addition to at least one or two groups that would like to see every Mass said in Latin. The hierarchy can make its decisions on those issues; there's no state interference on such religious questions in the United States. We still have the First Amendment, all arguments to the contrary. But your concern that Catholic leaders would be "lobbied" by gay and lesbian members to allow same-sex marriages in the church is not a reasonable argument for barring couples from having marriage equality under CIVIL LAW. And that's what the debate in the public square is chiefly about–equal rights under the law.Thanks for the lively debate, everyone. Here's to love in marriage (straight or gay). I need to take a break from these com boxes and tend to life. Peace.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05003640516890793019 Savia

    Steve,It's simply a lie that these laws will not affect anybody else.In Canada there are gay clubs being made mandatory even in Catholic schools. Parents are fighting a heavy battle. Even in public schools parents cannot pull their kids out of graphic gay sex classes.These civil rights are taking away the rights of parents to educate their children.Our children do not belong to the state.


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