Saturday, April 30, 2011

Marriages and Civil Unions

There was a big wedding in Britain this week.  Judging from the reaction of the press, I can only assume that it was Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet who finally got married.  In any case, due to the huge wedding and all the press attention it has received, I have been asked to talk about marriages and civil unions, and the difference between the two.

Marriage is one of the seven sacraments, which are outward signs of God's grace.  Marriages are instituted by the church.  A civil union is a contract between two people.  Civil unions are instituted by the government.  That's the easiest way to tell the difference between the two, although it's a bit harder to see this in a place like Britain, where the government runs the church.

Brace yourselves. I'm about to show a picture from a 1949 catechism.


(click on the picture to see a larger version)

In #1, we see a Catholic wedding between Joseph Goodman and his wife, Mary.  Joseph and Mary are both fully initiated Catholics.  They have, of course, undergone seven months of marriage preparation.  (Note that this is marriage preparation, not wedding preparation.  Some people mistakenly think the wedding ceremony is more impotant than the marriage.)  Their marriage is celebrated during a mass, inside a church, before a validly ordained minister and at least two witnesses.  Jesus and the angels smile upon their wedding.

In #2, we see Paul Agan contracting a civil union before a Justice of the Peace.  Maybe he thinks marriage is just a piece of paper with the words "Mr. and Mrs. P. Agan" on it.  Maybe he hasn't been to church in years, because it cuts in on his football-watching time.  Maybe he doesn't care about marriages at all, and he's being forced into it.  Whatever the reason, he isn't getting married in a church, before a validly ordained minister.  Instead, he's letting the United States Government do the job.  Note that Paul's guardian angel hides her face in shame, and Jesus is decidedly looking the other way.

In the eyes of the Catholic Church, marriage must be performed in front of a validly ordained minister and two witnesses.  That's a general standard, obviously.  There are more requirements, such as "neither the bride or the groom can be married to somebody else", but I won't go into them here.
According to these standards, most civil unions (or "government-appointed marriages", whichever term you prefer) are invalid, at least in the eyes of the church.  A good deal of marriages performed in non-Catholic churches don't count as valid, either.
People may question the Catholic Church's stance on government-appointed marriages, but let us remember that here in the United States, the church and state are separate.  The government, therefore, does not have the right to exert religious authority, especially in matters like marriage. This is why a government-approved marriage is called a "civil union", not a marriage.  The authority the government exerts is merely civil authority, not a religious one.

One final word on the government and marriage.  Catholics should obey the state's laws on marriage, as long as these laws do not contradict the laws of God or the church.  There are some state laws which do contradict the laws of the church, such as the laws on civil divorce.  Citizens are recommended to work to get these laws changed, so our legal system may be more just.

13 comments:

3D###Boy said...

Ok, I understand everything(not everything LOL). But I will don't get marry that's for sure.

Anonymous said...

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N.E.W. ;D

Anonymous said...

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N.E.W.

3D###Boy said...

Hey I see the Royal Marriage at CNN! So cool! Why it wasn't me?
Blah, is not for me.

Sparksbet said...

I can see where you're coming from, but I disagree on a few points. I think that a marriage in a church is obviously the preferred way of getting married. However, if, for some reason (e.g. the marriage must be last minute for legal purposes or something like that) a church ceremony isn't possible, a civil union can be used. I don't think being married by a justice of the peace is the right way to go, but I don't think it's a SIN. I also strongly disagree with the statement that non-Catholic marriages don't count - why? I think that's a very biased and un-Biblical stance for the Catholic church to take (As you can guess, I'm Protestant).

Elizabeth said...

So basically, you are saying that any marriage not conducted by the Catholic church doesn't count in God's eyes? Of course that is what the Catholic church would promote! If a couple were to go to the government for a "civil union" or to another church for a "marriage," there would be no money slipping into the Catholic church's pockets. No. I will never trust what another man says, but I will trust what God says through the Bible. I'm a very religious person and respect the sanctity of marriage, but I want to understand the scriptural proof of this. What Bible principles are the Catholic church basing their judgment off of? I sincerely wish to gain understanding on this subject, so please let me know.

Cat said...

I know a couple who eloped, and then had a church ceremony for everyone a few months later. They were engaged for a while, but the paperwork at city hall was some issue that wouldn't let them wait. They consider their actual anniversary to be their church wedding, and the date of elopement is sheerly used for paperwork.

The Green Platypus said...

Elizabeth,
The Church is perfectly fine with marriages outside of the Catholic Church for non-Catholics. Non-Catholics are not expected to get married in the church. A catechism is for the members of the church, any "rules" presented in a catechism are typically not for people who are of a different religion.(Although I have never seen a comic book catechism. Michael, do you have a name for this catechism?)

3D###Boy said...

Ummm...... If your talking about me I am from Romania and I am a baptist.
But I still don't want to marry because, it will be hard for me to have a family while I am a Doctor working hardly to rescue people lives.

Kira said...

I think that Catholics have to get married in a Catholic church, but non-Catholics can marry where ever. I also know that if there is a marriage between different religions (say the woman is Catholic, the man is Assembly of God or something) it is expected that if there are children, they must be raised as Catholics. Although I know people who were Catholic and then changed to their spouse's religion, and then brought their kids up as that religion.

All in all, religion is an exhausting topic to discuss when we all have so many different views. We should just respect everybody's opinion, whether they are "right" or not.

Anonymous said...

are you guys ok with gay marriage? i hope so...

Kira said...

Anonymous,

Gay marriage doesn't exist in the Catholic church. I think it's okay to be gay, but I'm just sort of opposed to a gay marriage in general. Not to offend anybody.

Stephan rose said...

P.Agan! That's hysterical!