I find this little piece insightful, particularly the distinction drawn between marriage and matrimony. While I disagree with Msgr. Pope that we should abandon the word marriage to the secular masses (though of course we need to make it clear that Matrimony is more than mere civil marriage.) I do believe the Church should get out of the civil aspect of “marriage”–which seems to be more along the lines of what Dr. Peters is arguing against anyway. And we should get out of it for the very simple reason that it isn’t marriage.
Dr. Peter’s is right that the state has some interest in marriage-and certainly I think that the US will eventually be lead to regret this redefinition of marriage from a pro-creative relationship to just a sort of formalized way of saying you love someone–with tax benefits. But for now what the state is really doing is proclaiming that it has no interest in marriage, and we ought to take the opportunity to reclaim marriage, by pointing out that the state no longer has anything to do with it. The state has abandoned marriage for an upgraded sort of civil union. That is what the state now recognizes, not anything like marriage, and the church has no reason to be involved in a legal contract. It seems very likely that we will be forced into this position one way or another anyway; that is that some lawsuit will come along claiming we cannot refuse to perform a gay marriage in one of our churches because of its civil union nature–which again is all the state now recognizes. As such, better to act now when our actions make a point.
To touch once more on the subject of the state’s interest in marriage and marriage as natural law, Marriage is a natural right, and as such the church does have reason to defend it. But this involves repudiating the whole institution of civil marriage as it stands today: none of it is based in natural law. Civil marriage today is not viewed as a natural right, but a privilege bestowed by the state on people for its own devices and purposes. It is in the very name itself; we are “granted” marriage licenses. A license has a legal definition that runs something like:
“The permission granted by competent authority to exercise a certain privilege that, without such authorization, would constitute an illegal act, a Trespass or a tort.”
The state already views marriage as something akin to a hunting license. If we want to defend natural law marriage, let us not pretend that the state has anything to do with that at present. If marriage is a natural right, it does not require approval from the state. The state is not here recognizing a natural right, but granting a set of privileges, and if we let them keep calling that marriage there will soon be nothing natural about marriage.
If we want to defend natural law marriage, we had best start with a complete overhaul of how the state even recognizes marriage. And as a start, we ought to not participate in, and so add legitimacy to, what it claims is marriage. The greatest defense of natural law marriage would be to question the very role of the state in dispensing what is supposed to be a natural and freely arising right.
This bad idea keeps popping in various versions, most lately from Msgr. Charles Pope, a superb writer but alas not a canonist (so few are perfect), namely, the Church should get out of the marriage business, stop using the word ‘marriage’, and deal henceforth only in Matrimony (one presumes, the sacrament thereof).
Interesting idea, except it’s terrible. As Pope (the Monsignor, not the Successor of Peter) invites replies to his idea, I’ll oblige, though not in the detail I fear this bad idea (which doesn’t seem to go away) warrants.
Marriage (and I’m talking about marriage, not Matrimony yet) is part of the natural law and, I think, one just does not walk away from the natural law. Marriage was not abolished by Jesus, it was (under certain circumstances the Church has worked out over the centuries) raised by Him to the level of a sacrament we call Matrimony…
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