Defending Marriage

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As Catholics, we all know the powerful spiritual nature of the Sacrament of Matrimony. In the Catechism we are taught:

1601 “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.”

Defending the Sacramental nature of the union between a man and woman is not difficult. We have a clear path of solid teachings handed down through sacred tradition.

Defending marriage law in the civil arena is an entirely different story.

We’ve all heard the arguments:

“We’re not discussing Catholic moral theology, we’re discussing civil law.”
“Why does it matter what consenting adults do in their own bedrooms? Marrying homosexuals doesn’t affect YOU!”
“This is a civil rights issue!”

… and a quadrillion others, I’m sure. The fact is, it’s quite a complicated issue.

First, it’s important to separate the purpose of marriage from the effects of marriage in civil society.

The purpose of marriage, historically in civil society, was solely meant for the legal protection of the family that is built through the procreative act. Marriage is a contract that creates kinship between a man and a woman so that the basic building block of society, the family, can be legally protected. So fundamentally, the law, at it’s basic roots, is about protecting the potential that naturally, normally, and typically arises from having sex.

The word marriage is ultimately derives from Latin mātrimōnium which combines the two concepts mater meaning “mother” and the suffix –monium signifying “action, state, or condition.” Marriage is about the “action” that makes a “mother”… sex, and specifically procreative sex.

A few states in the US still require the marriage to be consummated, as a completion of the marriage contract. Yes, marriage is about having LEGAL PROCREATIVE SEX (procreative meaning that it is done in a manner that could bring about procreation – assuming fertility is present). Being fertile and actually producing children is never mentioned. Fertility is an entirely separate issue, less you begin to question the protection of the marriage contract. Of course marriage is also about a bond of love between man and wife. A wife is not a piece of property that can be bought or sold simply for the ability to procreate. Marriage, by law, must be consensual. But regardless, in the civil arena – marriage, at it’s very basic roots, is about protecting the legal rights to have procreative sex.

The effects of marriage in civil society vary from state to state and country to country. These are the laws that give entitlements to married couples. These entitlements often make sense when we consider that the family is the building block of the greater society. There are economic benefits that encourage families to raise up concerned citizens who will become productive tax payers in the next generation. There are privacy laws that protect our ability to share personal information within the family. There are legal restraints on who we can name as beneficiaries on financial products such as health insurance and retirement plans. All of these laws have been established over time, based on the desired effects that the civil community feels is important.

These effects of marriage are often voted on by our political leaders or decided upon in the court of law. Marriage is not defined by these effects, but it often takes on these attributes because it is the historical building block of society.

Now that we have covered the definition and effects of marriage in society, let’s consider the current climate on the institution of marriage.

Those who promote so called “same sex marriage” often claim that they simply want the same effects or attributes opened to same sex partners that are available to married couples. As much as we, as Catholics, would love to fully implement a Catholic understanding of the family in society (and we do have the ability to voice that opinion through our votes), many of these laws may not be in our control. In fact, there are many ways around the established laws that open same sex couples up to quite a few of these effects. In many ways it’s hard to argue with certain things – like medical privacy laws. It is perfectly fine to be compassionate with all our brothers and sisters in situations like this. This is why it’s important to fully distinguish that these legal effects of marriage do not fundamentally DEFINE the idea of marriage.

However, there is another side that the promoters of “same sex marriage” are desiring to take on… and that is the very fundamental meaning of marriage itself. This is where we, as a civilized society have to draw the line. Opening up marriage to same sex partners would be slapping the government’s approval on sexual perversion. It would be teaching our children and all future generations that, according to the law, “marriage” is just about sex for pleasure. That’s all it is. It would be telling them that “some marriages are for procreating but others are not”. And this is really all coming down to the ACT of sex. And the ACT of sex is twofold by NATURE, by DESIGN. Yes, sex is an expression of love between two people, but it is also the ONLY means to natural procreation between those same two people, built into the very design of human beings. Marriage is a legallity that protects that institution of the family that is built through the ACT of sexual procreation. Anything else would be a perversion of the very meaning of marriage.

So as discussions arise, as they are very likely to in today’s political climate, remember to fully distinguish the fundamental meaning and purpose of marriage from the effects it has had on civil laws. Remember that we are allowed to each voice our own opinion on how we feel civil society should uphold the institution of the family through the effect of civil laws, but that these effects do not then, in turn, redefine the very meaning of marriage.


10 Replies to “Defending Marriage”

  1. Excellent! This issue is so hard for me to defend without “just using my faith”. You explained it so well from both a Catholic and civil perspective. Thank you!

  2. I am a Catholic.
    I recently found out that I cannot have children- ever. No chance.
    I will get married to someone I love. No one, in my religious or civil circles, will question it…because I am heterosexual.
    My homosexual friends are in THE EXACT SAME position.

  3. If same sex marriage laws pass, it becomes discriminatory to teach children that fathers are male and mothers are female.

    Next will come the “gender identity role playing” fantasy games.

    Parents will have not the slightest right to impede this.

    Vote accordingly, because if Obama is reelected he will pack the SCOTUS for gay marriage.

    And then they will go to work on your children.

  4. This is the first time I’ve seen the distinction drawn between procreative sex and fertility in any discussion of marriage vs. same-sex sham marriage. You’ve demolished a commonly seen argument used by the advocates of making sham marriage legally equivalent to real marriage, Emily. Thank you.

  5. Nicely done, Emily. I tend to run out of ammunition when it comes to “civil unions”. Thank you for these effective arguments.

  6. So what about couples that choose to not have children? Couples that choose to only adopt children? Are they “less” married because of it? This article is misleading. “Opening up marriage to same sex partners would be slapping the government’s approval on sexual perversion. It would be teaching our children and all future generations that, according to the law, “marriage” is just about sex for pleasure. That’s all it is. It would be telling them that “some marriages are for procreating but others are not”.” << Guess what, that's already true. Some people get married for OTHER reasons than JUST having babies. And implying that the only reasons homosexuals want to get married is to have "sex for pleasure" is also very uninformed. They want to be married for many valid reasons. I thoroughly dislike this article.

  7. Thank you for all the comments!

    @Stacey & @Incorrect…
    I apologize if my point was not made more clearly. Fertility, or “just having babies”, has never been legally necessary for a marriage to be considered valid – either civilly or within the faith. However, having procreative sex (or, consummating) HAS BEEN and STILL IS (in some cases, even for civil marriages) required for the marriage to be considered complete.
    Many people misunderstand the word “procreative”… it is an adjective describing the way sex must happen. It is not an indicator of fertility, or a requirement to actually have children. An infertile husband and wife can have “procreative” sex. A homosexual couple can never have “procreative” sex… it’s an impossibility.
    My article was meant to describe the historical understanding of the word “marriage” and what it’s true roots and meanings are. Many couples today have *redefined* the word “marriage” to be based on the “effects” that society has placed on this institution (as discussed above). I am sure that homosexual couples would like to be “married” for many valid reasons, but those reasons are based on the “effects”, and should not attempt to redefine the institution that simply cannot be redefined.

  8. It seems to me that Emily makes a valid point that we, as Catholics, should be focusing on as we discuss the attempts in society to redefine marriage. Are there not many people in society, not just homosexual partners, who are validly deserving of many of the “effects” that Emily mentions? I know of widows who live together after the deaths of their husbands, single moms who combine households to raise their children, adult siblings who form a household. These all could be considered loving, committed relationships,so are they not also entitled to many of these “effects” if we are eliminating discrimination? Yet it seems obvious that these relationships are not marriages. It is the fact that the potential for creating children uniquely exists in the sexual union of a man and a woman by nature that adds an extra level of responsibility and commitment to these relationships. Perhaps we would do well to focus on these differences of purpose and effects that Emily suggests.

  9. @Stacey & @Incorrect
    In order to have a valid Catholic marriage, the couple MUST be open to children. It’s actually one of the wedding vows “Will you accept children lovingly from God and bring them up according to the law of Christ and His Church?” and also something that will be discussed during marriage preparation (if you are being married in a Catholic Church). Being open to children means that a couple will not intentionally render the sexual act infertile. As Emily said, the act itself must always be procreative. Stacey, this is a very complex matter that cannot be resolved in a blog post. I would encourage you to speak to a Catholic priest. God Bless.

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