“I … TAKE you … to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.”
Or until we “fall out of love”, or until you get sick of me, or I get sick of you, or one of us finds someone else?
Do vows really matter? Does marriage really matter?
Why is it worth fighting for if the emerging story of marriage is divorce?
Does it really matter if the definition changes?
In this column, I focus on the difference between civil and Catholic marriage, and what we can expect if the government redefines civil marriage.
1.The Catholic sacrament of matrimony is already essentially different to civil marriage.
The government currently defines marriage as “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”.
The option of civil divorce has made the entered into for life part optional.
Today, if you have entered into a civil marriage for more than two years and decide you’ve had enough you can simply separate for one year and then file for a divorce.
No reason is necessary.
It is as simple as breaking of contract.
There is also no reference to children in relationship to civil marriage.
In this kind of union, children are optional.
The Catholic sacrament of marriage is essentially different for a number of reasons, two of which I address here.
Firstly, a valid sacramental marriage is indissoluble.
That is, it is unbreakable under any condition. Regardless of what a spouse may do after a valid sacramental marriage, the bond is unbreakable.
An annulment process – which many mistake as a kind of Catholic divorce – does not break the sacramental bond; it instead tests to see whether the marriage was sacramentally valid – whether there was a sacramental bond in the first place.
Just as a baptism into the name of the creator, liberator and sustainer is sacramentally invalid, so is a marriage that is not open to life and entered into with proper understanding and full consent.
Secondly, Catholic marriage must be open to life.
A marriage entered into with a will against having children is not a sacramentally valid marriage. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1664) states, “Unity, indissolubility, and openness to fertility are essential to marriage”.
All of that is to say, marriage outside the Church is already significantly different to marriage inside the Church.
So what can we expect if the gap between these two understandings widens even further?
2. If marriage is redefined, legislation to protect religious freedoms for both individuals and institutions is crucial.
If it does come to pass that the government redefines marriage, our concern is not only the impact this has on marriage, but how this impacts on individuals and institutions who don’t accept some forms of what would be the “new marriage”.
We are already seeing attempts to de-register a doctor simply because she is against same-sex marriage. In the US, we saw a baker fined over $100,000 for not baking a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage.
In Canada, we have recently seen laws passed that give permission for the government to remove children from their parents if their parents are not allowing the child to choose their own gender.
If civil marriage is re-defined, our priests and our institutions must have the freedom to continue to teach and preach what the Church teaches without fear.
Our priests cannot ever do Catholic marriages for same-sex couples because such a union can’t be sacramentally valid.
Our institutions need the freedom, as they currently have, to recruit staff that are aligned with the beliefs of the institution.
Our parents need the freedom to teach their children what God has revealed to us about marriage, family and gender without fear that the government could forcibly remove our children.
Without such protections, the redefinition of marriage could have far-reaching ramifications for the Church and all Christian institutions nationally.
While there is a lot more to say on the subject of marriage, time is short, and a vote is upon us. Marriage is a beautiful thing.
It’s the foundation of a civil society and forms the first community for our children.
The ancient, unique, time-tested institution is something worth preserving – that’s why I’ll be voting no.
By Peter Pellicaan