State, You’re Just the Worst

State, You’re Just the Worst May 20, 2015

The State is unnecessary for the existence of marriage. As that Venerable Badass, Pope Leo XIII, put it in his encyclical Rerum Novarum, “Man is older than the State and he holds the right of providing for the life of his body prior to the formation of any State.” More directly related to marriage, the selfsame Pontifex sayeth: “No human law can abolish the natural and primitive right of marriage, or in anyway limit the chief and principal purpose of marriage, ordained by God’s authority from the beginning. “Increase and multiply.” Thus we have the family; the “society” of a man’s own household; a society limited indeed in numbers, but a true “society,” anterior to every kind of State or nation, with rights and duties of its own, totally independent of the commonwealth.”

This the heart of a radical Catholic politic, the fierce validation of the family as “totally independent of the commonwealth.” People fall in love, marry, and perpetuate the human comedy through the creation of smaller people, all without giving a single damn about the State. This seems self-evident. But this also means that the argument for the preservation of  “traditional marriage” as a necessary institution for contributing progeny to the State is, at best, wonky. I suppose one may make a baby with a mind to the maintenance and health of the commonwealth, but this is an unnecessary addition. One may equally, ethically, naturally, and in affectionate accord with the Patriarchs of the Western Church, say “screw the commonwealth, we’re making a person as a distinct locus of value, lovely in itself, apart from any possible ends,” and proceed thereby.

Within its proper limits, the State does no more than regulate “the civil effects of marriage” (Canon 1016). Which leads to the not-so-shocking conclusion that, to the Catholic, there is no such thing as a “civil marriage” at all — there is only the State regulation of the effects of a sacramental or natural marriage on society. At best then, the State can be a help or a hindrance to natural and sacramental marriages. Currently, it is a hindrance.

Marriage, according to the Church, is an institution directed to several ends. Unity and indissolubility (without which a marriage cannot be said to exist), conjugal fidelity and the generation, nourishment and education of offspring (which are the natural ends of marriage), the signification of Christ’s love for his Church and a remedy against sin, and the mutual help of the spouses. If we briefly compose a tally, we will find that the State is inadequate in regards to every good the Church claims makes marriage marriage. Against the good of indissolubility, civil marriage proposes divorce, remarriage, and pre-nuptial agreements. Against the good of conjugal faithfulness, civil marriage legalizes and decriminalizes adultery. Against the good of offspring and their education, civil marriage permits contraception, sterilization, abortion — and the public school system. And as far as concerns the strictly sacramental effects of marriage, the State ranges from indifferent, as they should be, to ominous, as when we see the religious criminalized for keeping their marriage-related activities strictly within the bounds of nature and the sacrament.

So the question becomes, what is the responsibility of the married Catholic in a State which is antagonistic to every conceivable end of marriage, long before any discussion of gay marriage? Surely the first step is to repudiate the State, and to live intentionally within a marriage “independent of” a crooked commonwealth; to live a marriage which recognizes the State as unnecessary, insufficient, and finally incapable of establishing, legislating, or sustaining it. By seriously downplaying the bloated and self-appointed importance of the State in matters of marriage, remembering that the fullness of marriage resides in nature and the sacrament, and that no marriage in the universe has ever come from the State — only then can we speak seriously about “fixing” it.

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