Friday, March 5, 2010

An interesting idea

Writing in the aftermath of the legalization of same-sex "marriage" in Washington, D.C., Msgr. Charles Pope suggests that perhaps we Catholics ought to start using a different word for what we mean by marriage:

Proposal: So the bottom line is that what the secular world means by the word “marriage” is not even close to what the Church means. Is it time for us to accept this and start using a different word? Perhaps it is and I would like to propose a new (really an old) term and hear what you think. I propose that we should exclusively refer to marriage in the Church as “Holy Matrimony.” According to this proposal the word marriage would be set aside and replaced by Holy Matrimony. It should be noticed that the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to this Sacrament formally as “The Sacrament of Matrimony.”

The word matrimony also emphasizes two aspects of marriage: procreation and heterosexual complimentarity. The word comes from Latin and old French roots. Matri = “mother” and mony, a suffix indicating “action, state, or condition.” Hence Holy Matrimony refers to that that holy Sacrament wherein a woman enters the state that inaugurates an openness to motherhood. Hence the Biblical and Ecclesial definition of Holy Matrimony as heterosexual and procreative is reaffirmed by the term itself. Calling it HOLY Matrimony distinguishes it from SECULAR marriage.

The comments to Msgr. Pope's post are interesting; I find myself caught somewhere in the middle on this idea.

On the one hand, I agree with those commenters who find it a little to defeatist to abandon the word "marriage" altogether. Marriage, after all, predates the State, and the notion that we can deconstruct it to mean anything we like--which makes it mean nothing at all--is one that we ought to be prepared to fight as long as fighting is possible.

On the other hand, though, I started thinking that perhaps there could be some protection for religious people, in a post-gay "marriage" reality, in adopting and adhering to a new term. I'm not entirely sure how this would play out, but I'm thinking it would be something like this: Catholics would call marriage "Holy Matrimony," and Catholics who wished to serve only those Catholics entering into Holy Matrimony would thus not be forced to provide their services to anybody entering into any kind of "marriage," civil, religious, or otherwise.

To look at how this works right now, consider that there are Bar and Bat Mitzvah planners/coordinators who exist to help their customers plan these events, and these events only; there are also quinceanera coordinators (some of whom work for parishes) who assist girls in the planning of their quinceaneras. So why couldn't there be businesses which existed strictly to serve Holy Matrimony candidates--who photographed Holy Matrimony ceremonies, catered Holy Matrimony receptions, sold Holy Matrimony attire, etc.? If necessary, such businesses could even specify that they served only Catholic Holy Matrimony candidates, ceremonies, and events--that they worked with Catholic parishes and dioceses to make sure that anything they were responsible for doing met parish guidelines.

Since same-sex couples will never, ever be able to enter Catholic Holy Matrimony, they will have no ability to sue Catholic Holy Matrimony planners, photographers, caterers etc. for refusing to accommodate their "marriage" ceremonies. True, those wishing to remain in business as Catholic Holy Matrimony planners, etc., will have to serve only the Catholic market--but there are, after all, just under seventy million Catholics in America, so the market isn't insignificant.

And using the term "Holy Matrimony" could spread to other areas, too. Catholic men and women who presently work as marriage counselors could change their focus to "Holy Matrimony Counselors," who work exclusively with clients who have entered into Holy Matrimony with each other, for instance. I'm sure there could be other examples, too.

The point of doing this would be to do an end-run around the end-game of the gay marriage proponents, since what they want is to force people who have deeply-held beliefs about the intrinsic evil of homosexual sex acts to keep those beliefs isolated to Sunday-morning worship, and to be forced to accommodate and give social approval otherwise to same-sex couples, or to face lawsuits and charges of discrimination and bigotry otherwise. Simply stepping back and saying, in effect, "Oh, no, I'm not a marriage X or a wedding Y; I'm a Holy Matrimony X or Y," would be a preemptive act against lawsuits and harassment for refusing to call two men or two women "married" or to treat them as such.


eulogos said...

In order for this to fly legally, it could not be tied to legal marriage. Right now, people go get a marriage license, then they go get married in the church, and the church won't marry them if they don't have a marriage license from the state. If the Church goes on doing this, it won't matter what you call it. Catholics are going to have civil ceremonies to obtain the civil benefits of marriage, and the Church is going to have to stop asking for a legal marriage license before marrying people.
Otherwise those who try to say that they are only a 'Holy Matrimony' so and so will be told that this is a flimsy pretext for illegal discrimination.

I think it is a good idea, but it won't work unless we follow through on breaking the connection between "marriage" and the Church.
Then the Church will have a lot of catechesis to do-Being "married" isn't enough; you and your husband have to go through a Holy Matrimony ceremony first if you want to receive communion.

Do you think it would be possible to do this?

Susan Peterson

Anonymous said...

So what is the proper term to replace "I am married".

"I am in a Matrimonial state"?

"I am matrimized"?

There's a lot of words to work around to accomplish this.

Erin Manning said...

Susan, I'm not sure why any such thing would be necessary--we'd be talking about people who are celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, not their civil marriage.

If a caterer wanted to go into business tomorrow as someone who only catered First Communions, Confirmations, etc., couldn't he or she do that? Bar and Bat Mitzvah coordinators don't have to plan quinceaneras, right?

Or am I missing something?

eulogos said...

No one has to get a license from the state for a first communion.
When people get married civilly, they get a license, then they have a brief ceremony in front of JP or town clerk, sign a paper, and then they are married.
If they are going to get married in church, they take the license to the priest or minister, who signs that he has married them.
The priest is actually acting as a functionary of the state, performing the same job as the JP, when he signs that he married the two people.
As long as the church says you need a marriage license to enter Holy Matrimony, and signs the papers saying they have married the people, I believe a court is going to say that it is another word for the same thing. I mean, ask a lawyer, I'm not one,but this is what I think would happen.

I think it is perfectly doable for Catholics to have a civil ceremony and have the JP or whoever sign the license. and have a religious ceremony later.
There would be issues; suppose an older couple, both widowed, wants to enter Holy Matrimony, but not be married civilly...lots of financial advantages to that for people who both get Social Security. Will the Church allow this? I don't see why not, but of course, right now they won't. There isn't any necessary connection between the sacrament of matrimony and the civil contract of marriage.

The state is more and more hostile to Catholics. We are going to have to disentangle ourselves from it, bit by bit.

Susan Peterson

Monica said...

I like the idea of speaking of Holy Matrimony. It truly does help in marking the distinction between the mainstream understanding of "marriage" and the union instituted by God. I'm not sure we can give up on the term marriage altogether though. Rescuing the term does seem a daunting task, but we have to keep trying, else those interested in removing all distinctions will just work to redefine Holy Matrimony.

I agree that it seems a first step toward restoring the true understanding of the sacrament entails that we sever the link between the sacrament of Holy Matrimony and the "marriage" granted by the state. If we want to restore a proper understanding of the sacrament, then it needs to be clear that the marital union between a man and woman is only possible through the Church. But I don't know enough about what is at stake in completely severing the state's role in marriage. Holy Matrimony is not accomplished by the authority of the state. God unites man and woman. But why did marriage enter the state's realm in the first place? What is the purpose of a marriage license? Why did the state take up the function of marriage?

Nicholas said...

This is a great idea, and has sacramental value on its own, as Monica says. The church primarily admits into Holy Matrimony, the state recognises and protects that marriage.

Pragmatically though, as a legal defence, I think it would be short-lived.

The problem I see is that some other churches also use the term 'Holy Matrimony' (think Anglican/Episcopalian, probably others) and in some jurisdictions they are promiscuous about who they admit to that 'sacrament' or any other, for that matter.

So the photographer / caterer / etc would have to further limit themselves to "specialising in the Roman Catholic Sacrament of Holy Matrimony" or something similar, to avoid the problem of the "Holy Matrimony" of Bill and Bob at the 'synagogue of satan' down the road.

And they would probably still find themselves having to defend that position against an activist attack, in court.

The parallel with Jewish practice is nice but probably not helpful as a legal defence - unless there had already been an affirmative ruling which could be drawn upon as precedent.

Erin: Great blog. I'm a newcomer since Rod Dreher announced you a few weeks back. I'm not Roman Catholic myself, but as a protestant-turned-Orthodox Christian, I find a strong resonance with your thinking.

Nick in Melbourne, Australia.

Erin Manning said...

Nick--thanks! And welcome!

Interesting comments, all. I'm pondering Monica's question--what is the state's role in marriage? If the state transforms its role regarding marriage from something helpful to something detrimental and even evil, does that change the way Catholics interact with it? Should it?

Diamantina, aka Gentillylace said...

I think it would be a good idea if all people in the United States who wanted to enter into a Catholic or Orthodox Christian state of Holy Matrimony could do so separated from the civil state of marriage. In France and Brazil (among other nations), all people who want to be married must do so civilly. Then, if they wish, they can have their weddings blessed in religious ceremonies -- including the Catholic sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

Milehimama @ Mama Says said...

I love this idea. For years I've tried to articulate the fact that civil marriage and sacramental marriage are different. A civil divorce, for example, doesn't nullify a sacramental marriage, but that's so hard to explain when the term "marriage" means two different things in that context. Also states recognize common law marriage which is not related to sacramental marriage at all.

I think I may personally adopt this.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

As a non-Catholic who is dubious about gay marriage and a citizen who studies the First Amendment closely, I think this is the way to go. I do agree that if marriage means anything, then it means nothing at all, and that is still worth pointing out. But under the U.S. Constitution, unlike Canada, and most of Europe, the state IS barred from intruding even equal protection and civil rights laws into matters of faith and doctrine.

Of course there are ways to make this even more general. "I specialize in church weddings" might be one. There was a loud-mouthed gay man in Massachusetts saying he was going to sue the Baptist church if it wouldn't host his wedding, but he would have lost, flat-out. It would have been dismissed with prejudice, and he would have lost on appeal. The courts don't even have jurisdiction.

I favor the state getting out of "marriage" entirely. Let the state enshrine its civil interests in "civil union," and let anyone who is "married" also get a "civil union" certificate if they want the tax benefits, or vice versa. But churches are entitled to their own criteria. If a gay couple wants a church wedding, they can go to a Metropolitan Baptist Church.

Anonymous said...

I had wondered if a time may come where one would marry in the Church/may or may not have it recognized by the state (license).

I will start using this term in our home - I think it is a good idea.