Diocese of Springfield - Cape Girardeau at 601 South Jefferson Ave., Springfield, MO 65806-3143 US - What Exactly Is Marriage? May 11, 2012
What Exactly Is Marriage?
May 11, 2012
“The marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of their whole life, and which of its own very nature is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children, has, between the baptized, been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.” -—Code of Canon Law, Canon 1055, 1
This past week, Vice Pres. Joseph Biden announced in an interview that he is in support of same-sex marriage. A few days later, he was joined in that position by Pres. Barack Obama. They are the latest, and most significant, to announce such a view, joining other high-profile figures from the political world and Hollywood. Responding to questions from NBC’s David Gregory, Biden said, “I just think that the good news is that as more and more Americans come to understand what this is all about is a simple proposition. Who do you love? Who do you love? And will you be loyal to the person you love? And that’s what people are finding out is what, what all marriages, at their root, are about. Whether they’re marriages of lesbians or gay men or heterosexuals.”
The vice president’s comments reflect a movement that has been gaining momentum in America and Europe for some time. Marriage has become simply, “Who do you love?” Among the societal changes with which our nation grapples, marriage perhaps is the most significant, certainly overshadowing the economic worries that preoccupy most people. This radical redefinition of marriage is a departure from what societies throughout history have recognized: that marriage is a union between a man and a woman; that this complementarity of the sexes is good for the spouses, and it is ordered toward and essential for, the other purpose of marriage, namely the procreation and upbringing of children. This truth is recognizable by reason and plain old common sense, which is why societies across the religious spectrum, and even those without strong religious sentiments, have upheld and protected it—until now.
By redefining marriage, putting marriage between a man and a woman on an equal footing with same-sex unions, the state would be saying that the former is no better than the latter. This is fundamentally unjust. It will also likely lead to further tyranny of the state over those institutions which do not subscribe to the new definition, as has already occurred in Canada and Europe. In the US, the Catholic Church has experienced the first wave of this governmental encroachment in several states—being forced out of the charitable work of facilitating adoptions, for example.
Marriage: More than ‘Who do you love?’
But, back to Vice Pres. Biden’s view: Is marriage only “Who do you love?” Catholics, most other Christians, and many non-religious people for that matter, believe it is much more. In fact, while love is the goal, and is typically what one would expect of a marriage, strictly speaking, marriage is a reality that exists even in those instances when the spouses may stop feeling love for one another, precisely because it is much more than just “Who do you love?”
By its very nature, marriage is a union between a man and a woman (a covenant in the Christian sense), in large part because it is necessary for the continuing of the species. The marriage covenant is the best place to conceive, raise, and educate children. Intuitively, one can see that the differences between a man and a woman only make sense in light of marriage. A man’s body only makes sense in relation to a woman and vice versa: Pope John Paul II referred to this as the “nuptial meaning” of the body. The spouses as well as children benefit from the presence and manifestation of both masculine and feminine within the family.
For the baptized, marriage has even more significance, in that it is an image of a greater mystery, the love of Christ for the Church (cf. Eph 5). Because it impacts the salvation of spouses and their children, and is a covenant which reveals something significant about the love of God, Christ elevated marriage between the baptized to a sacrament.
Justice in protecting marriage
To uphold marriage as a one man-one woman union is not an act of unjust discrimination toward gay people. Rather, it is the recognition that marriage is not something that we can redefine. It is the recognition that marriage is much more than just “Who do you love?”
If marriage is indeed the most basic cell of society, the foundation of the family, and the best place to conceive and raise children, we have an obligation to protect it as an act of justice.