Sunday, October 02, 2011
Hypothetically Speaking: Marriage Interrupted
A front page article in the September 28 edition of The Record newspaper began this way:
"If the state forced the Perth archdiocese to officiate at same-sex unions, the archdiocese would cancel its registration to celebrate legal marriages..."
The Catholic Church will never officiate or validate same-sex unions - this is the long and the short of it - but my commentary in this blog is not about gay "marriage", same-sex unions, yadda, yadda, yadda... I'm speaking hypothetically and answering the question:
If the Catholic Church (i.e. all Catholic archdiocese on a global scale) were forced by the state (i.e. the respective incumbent government be it at the state or federal level) to officiate at same-sex unions and inevitably cancel its registration to celebrate legal marriages in response, what would happen to the Sacrament of Marriage?
Here's what I see happening:
Canon Law will be "tweaked" - any reference to civil authorities (i.e. the respective incumbent government be it at the state or federal level) will be removed (e.g. Can. 1057 §1; 1059). After looking through the canons on marriage there don't appear to be many of these references to civil authorities so the changes will be minimal (hence the tweak); marriage will retain its sacramentality.
Legal recognition(s) of marriage - it will still of course be possible to be "married" in the Catholic Church; the sacrament, after all, is a covenant bond instituted by God that cannot be broken. Quite simply, marriage does not exist without the sacrament! So while the marriage between a man and woman will not be recognised by the state (i.e. it will not be a legal union), before God husband and wife still become one flesh. In order for couples who have participated in the sacrament of marriage to have this union made "legal", they will need to have a separate "ceremony" by which a judge or Justice of the Peace (or other celebrant accredited to officiate marriages) officiates the union and is noted in the books, so to speak (i.e. it is recognised by the civil authorities).
This may present a couple of problems:
1. Couples sacramentally married in the Catholic Church may find it tedious or troublesome to have their marriages legally recognised. There would be two ways to go about this: either have a judge or Justice of the Peace witness the marriage at the church in order to have it officiated, or as mentioned above have a separate ceremony (before or after the nuptials) to recognise the civil union. If a judge or Justice of the Peace (or other celebrant accredited to officiate marriages) is present at the nuptials, canon law would need to allow for this to occur (i.e. tweaked, as afore mentioned). I would also anticipate the Church exhorting sacramentally married couples to have their marriage legally recognised by the state. This makes the entire "process" of marriage cumbersome for the most part and rather complicated. A number of couples may simply not bother with getting their marriage legally recognised.
2. Couples sacramentally married who do not have their marriages legally recognised would legally be classified either of two ways: de facto, or "two individuals living in the same household" (more on those two shortly). Why would this be problematic? In a country like Australia, married couples are entitled to certain rights and benefits. I won't get into great detail with these, but they range from tax benefits due to having a combined income, estate planning benefits (e.g. inheritances), government benefits such as receiving family Medicare cover and Social Security, employment benefits, medical benefits, housing benefits, and consumer benefits which in some cases are only offered to married couples or families.
Being recognised as living in a "de facto" relationship or as "two individuals living in the same household" is confusing, complicated and cumbersome: yes, a couple married in the Catholic Church share in the sacramental/divine union of a man and a woman, but legally? No. It would not just be a matter of missing out on a few benefits, imagine explaining to your friends, family and/or workmates that you're married... but not really! Sure, you could say to others that you've been "married in the Church" but quickly another could turn around and say, "But you're marriage is not legally recognised... according to the law you're not married!"
An additional problem - and this is why same-sex unions pose such a strong threat to marriage - is that with all the potential problems, these complications, this confusion, this appeasement to a minority group; it may very well deter good Christian couples from getting married (even sacramentally) all together.
Pope John Paul II once said:
"Marriage is an act of will that signifies and involves a mutual gift, which unites the spouses and binds them to their eventual souls, with whom they make up a sole family - a domestic church."
An end to marriage as we know it today spells the end of the domestic church, and ultimately the end of the Church itself. Without its body, without its members, the Church cannot continue to mission beset to it by Christ himself before he ascended into Heaven:
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." - Matthew 28:19-20
If the Church is the light set on a hill for all to see (Matthew 5:14), if this light is overshadowed, all that exists is darkness and the proud race of humanity will fumble around in the dark in a moral stupor; an anarchy of thought directed by the most base of instincts. This light must never be overshadowed; we must work to keep it shining.
Pope Benedict XVI stressed this, marriage between a man and a woman as the bulwark of society in an address to experts and students in the field of marriage at the Vatican in May 2006:
"Only the rock of complete and irrevocable love between man and woman is capable of acting as a foundation for a society that can be home to all human beings."
At all costs, marriage must be protected.
Pray that our governments do not impinge draconian measures and regulations on the Church to officiate same-sex unions and thus have the Church cancel its registration to celebrate legal marriages. Pray that the Church, based solely on moral and religious grounds, be given - if anything if this is to occur - a dispensation so that the integrity of marriage may be upheld and celebrated as given to us by Almighty God: for one man and one woman.
"'So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.'" - Matthew 19:6