February 17, 2012

Marriage is beyond the law

By Deacon Patrick Moynihan *
Since we are not a theocracy, religion is limited to informing and guiding the government and its leaders on certain matters. It cannot dictate. Likewise, since we are not an atheistic tyranny, the government restricts itself from interfering with the practices of those who have freely chosen to live by God’s law as well as man’s law, as long as those practices do not violate anyone’s rights or well-being. It may be frustrating to watch our culture move away from God at times; however, it is clearly beneficial to both church and state that the two are separated.

As part of my preparation to become a Catholic deacon, I had the opportunity to develop a very clear understanding of marriage based on Scripture, Tradition and Theology. My twenty-three years of marriage confirms in practice what I have learned intellectually and through faith.

I am confident that marriage is a specific form of union which occurs only when a man and woman voluntarily and publicly commit themselves by solemn vow to a monogamous, permanent, faithful, fruitful union.

In declaring the Catholic basis for my understanding of marriage, I am not implying that there are different types of marriage for different people. I firmly believe there is only one authentic format for marriage and that the general basis for this union can be discovered in natural law. It is written in our very nature as men and women. However, I recognize that this concept of marriage is beyond civil law’s comprehension and jurisdiction. So, I have little hope that the government will be able to recognize or defend the institution of marriage much longer.

As a nation, we have agreed upon a Constitution, not a particular faith. Because of this and the mutually agreed upon limitations described above, there are some concepts our Constitution falls short of being able to define. This potentially puts many important social constructs outside the purview of the government.

I fear authentic marriage will soon be discovered as one of those.

Before exiting the political debate on marriage, there are two points I must make. First, the government, regardless of how it defines marriage, cannot cause an actual marriage to come into existence through the law.

Things are what they are in substance, not in name alone.

Second, the government must never attempt to impose its definition of marriage on a religious group. Recent issues in health care legislation make it necessary to mention the latter point. Fulfilling my part in the Church’s role as social guide necessitates stating the first.

It is also worth noting that for the first time in our history, married couples are in the minority among adults.

The percentage of children born out of wedlock has increased tenfold since the 1960s. The divorce rate, though down from its peak in the 80s, is still over 40% for first marriages and over 75% for third marriages. Ironically, marriage is becoming a marginal institution just as the debate over who can have one heats up. This is akin to a gravely ill cancer patient asking for plastic surgery.

By admitting that marriage is indeed defined from above, I am not suggesting that it is only a matter for God and heaven. Marriage has very practical value here on earth. Any number of social issues are multiplied and intensified when children are not afforded a solid family life. Children growing up in single parent homes are far more likely—maybe as much as three times—to be involved in delinquency. The direct correlation between lack of marriage and poverty is incontrovertible as well.

Solid marriages are the base of a strong, healthy society; they are not just a concern of heaven.

I really hope that this latest political battle creates a renewed interest in exactly what can and cannot be defined by the Constitution. I hope this because there is something currently under-protected in our society which is surely not beyond our Constitution’s scope. This is the recognition that every human—regardless of locality, health or stage of development—has an inalienable right to life. Somehow, as counterintuitive is it may seem, I hope that realizing that the Constitution does not protect authentic marriage will wake us up to the fact that it does protect life.

Wouldn’t that be an amazing silver lining?

Deacon Patrick Moynihan graduated Culver Military Academy in 1983, from Brown University with BA in Sanskrit and Classics in 1987, and from Providence College with an MA in Religious Studies [Theology] in 1999.

He taught Latin and English in a Catholic High School from 1987 to 1990, traded commodities, futures and options for an international trading company from 1990 to 1995 and directed a free Catholic mission school in Haiti for academically gifted children from the poorest areas around Port au Prince from 1996 to 2006.

Deacon Moynihan was ordained in October of 2001 as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Rockford [IL] where he was the director of formation and later the Office for the Permanent Diaconate from 2001 to 2006. He has since gone back to Haiti and is currently the president of The Haitian Project.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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