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.

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