Apples, Oranges, and Marriage


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Calling an orange an apple doesn’t make it so. If one knows what an apple is, one knows an orange shouldn’t be called an apple. If one is calling an orange an apple out of ignorance, the charitable thing would be to illuminate for that person what an apple is.

It’s the same with marriage. Based on the widespread support for the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring that people have a constitutional “right” to call something marriage that is not marriage, it is clear that people don’t know what marriage is. This calls for charity in helping people understand the meaning and purpose of marriage. As Catholics, we have an incredibly rich tradition to draw from in this regard – a tradition based first on natural law, not biblical revelation. And that means it is not only applicable to Catholics, but to the very nature of being human.

On this natural level, the Church defines marriage as the intimate, exclusive, indissoluble communion of life and love entered by man and woman at the design of the Creator for the purpose of their own good and the procreation and education of children. Of course, for baptized persons, marriage is also a sacrament. But for our purposes here, we’ll stick to the natural reality of marriage.

Intimate communion of life and love: Marriage calls for a mutual self-surrender of the spouses so intimate and complete that they – without losing their individuality – become “one flesh.” It is precisely the sexual difference that allows for this kind of two becoming “one” in communion (common-union).

Exclusive communion of life and love: As a mutual gift of two persons to each other, this intimate union excludes such union with anyone else. It demands the total fidelity of the spouses. This exclusivity is essential for the good of the couple’s children as well.

Indissoluble communion of life and love: Husband and wife are not joined by passing emotion or mere erotic inclination which, selfishly pursued, fades quickly away. They are joined in authentic conjugal love by the firm and irrevocable act of their own will. Once their mutual consent has been consummated by genital intercourse, an unbreakable bond is established between the spouses. For the baptized, this bond is sealed by the Holy Spirit and becomes absolutely indissoluble. Thus, the Church does not so much teach that divorce is wrong, but that divorce is impossible, regardless of its civil implications.

Entered by man and woman: The complementarity of the sexes is essential to marriage. It’s not that two men (or two women) could marry, but the Church won’t “let them.” Two men or two women can’t possibly marry because two men or two women can’t possibly engage in sexual intercourse, the consummate expression of marital love. Sexual intercourse is only possible with the difference of sexual organs. It’s simply impossible for two members of the same-sex to unite their sexual organs. The ability to engage in sexual intercourse is thus the defining factor of the relationship called marriage.

At the design of the Creator: God is the author of marriage. He inscribed the call to marriage in our very being by creating us as male and female. To tinker with the nature and purpose of marriage is, therefore, “to make ourselves like God.”

For the purpose of their own good and the procreation and education of children: “It is not good that the man should be alone,” as the book of Genesis puts it. He needs a helper “fit for him” (2:18). The sexual difference is given first as an enrichment of our own humanity and also for the sake of expanding the human family. Children are not added on to marriage and conjugal love, but spring from the very heart of the spouses’ mutual self-giving, as its fruit and fulfillment. This is why the Church has always understood that the intentional exclusion of children contradicts the very nature and purpose of marriage.

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