The Church Lost the Marriage Debate Decades Ago: It’s Time To Get Out of the Game

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George Weigel, who is almost always wrong on foreign policy matters, and who was one of the despicable Catholic neocons who lectured John Paul II for being against the Iraq War, is nevertheless right when he suggests in a recent column that the American clergy remove itself from the “civil marriage business.” As I’ve explained in detail here and here, all Christians should recoil from the thought of allowing a civil government to define what is and what is not a “marriage.” As I’ve noted to some fellow Christians recently, I hope the government starts “marrying” people to dogs and dogs to walruses and men to 9 women and women to 15 men. It will all just illustrate how utterly ridiculous is the whole concept of government marriage. Weigel recognizes that American Catholics should sever themselves from the nonsense ASAP:

If the Church were to take this dramatic step [refusing to act as agents of state marriage] now, it would be acting prophetically: it would be challenging the state (and the culture) by underscoring that what the state means by “marriage” and what Catholics mean by “marriage” are radically different, and that what the state means by “marriage” is wrong.

Civil law shouldn’t even touch upon the idea of marriage at all, and simply allow people to engage in contracts with each other (or not do so) all they like. Marriage laws do little more than simply discriminate against single people anyway by doling out certain legal privileges to spouses that are denied to unmarried people.

Another reason to give up on the civil marriage game is to recognize that the American bishops actually threw in the towel on this decades ago when they made peace with no-fault divorce. According to Catholic theology, unless the marriage started out as unlawful (i.e., is incestuous or invalid for another reason) marriage does not end until one of the parties dies. Case closed. No exceptions. It says this in numerous places in the New Testament. Yet, the American bishops recognize the state’s alleged prerogative to define a “marriage” as a union between divorced people. This violates what the Church has always taught. So, why is a fake and adulterous marriage (as defined by Catholic theology) acceptable as long as it’s between a man and a woman? Yet, a fake and adulterous marriage is not acceptable if between a man and a man? Apparently, the state can recognize that a man who has been divorced 5 times is “married” if the state says so. And the bishops have no problem with this.

None of these situations is morally acceptable for Catholics of course, and never have been, but the American bishops abandoned their political consistency on this in the 60s when no-fault divorce was accepted because the bishops were either too eager to compromise or too asleep at the switch to take a stand back then. So, you’ll forgive the public for not noticing when the American bishops recently decided that “oh, this time, on gay marriage, we’re going to stick to our guns.”

It’s time to cut the cord. Let’s swallow our pride and say that we’ve been wrong about marriage ever since that day centuries ago when we started allowing civil authorities to decide who was married and who was not. It’s time to say that all civil law about marriage is null and void, and that we don’t care what the government has to say about it. Divorced people aren’t “married” any more than gay people are. If other private individuals wish to define matters differently, they can have marriages in their own churches or living rooms or where ever, and the state should be removed from it just as the state should be removed from the activities all consenting adults.

Some Catholic theorists will never give up on this quest to grant the state free license to meddle in Catholic sacraments, however. Br. Thomas More Garrett opposes Weigel’s position as “irresponsible and claims the following:

In effect, the Church would become responsible for introducing in this country a practice mirroring that found in certain others—compulsory civil marriage—in which couples contract marriage in a purely civil ceremony and, if they so choose, separately solemnize the marriage in a religious rite.

In this, Garrett is simply wrong. Certain groups of Orthodox Jews, for example, have long held their marriage rites to be separate from state marriage, and conduct themselves accordingly. Do the Amish seek official government approval of their marriages? It’s possible, but I doubt it. Thus, Garrett is wrong, and his claim that this is an important reason to keep marriage a simultaneously civil and religiously matter fails. Indeed, the very opposite is the case: the true nature of marriage must be made clear by separating it from a civil law which recognizes remarriage of divorced people and homosexuals, and endorses a generally faulty view of marriage as some kind of contract.

Will certain Catholics ever figure out that the state is not their friend, or will they be impervious to facts until that day finally comes when priests are arrested en masse for “hate crimes?” Time will tell.

2:48 pm on November 23, 2012
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