Do we need to set aside the Word "Marriage" and use "Holy Matrimony" exclusively?

062713In the wake of the supreme court decisions of this week, I would like to return to a question I have Asked before: Are we coming to a point where we should consider dropping our use of the word “marriage?”

It is a simple fact that word “marriage” as we have traditionally known it is being redefined in our times. To many in the secular world the word no longer means what it once did and when the Church uses the word marriage we clearly do not mean what the increasing number of states mean.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines “Marriage” (i.e. Holy Matrimony)  in the following way:

The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament (CCC # 1601)

The latest actions by numerous states and the hat-tip that the Supremes gave Same sex unions mean that increasingly, the secular world’s definition of marriage no longer even remotely resembles what the Catechism describes.

To be fair, as we have previously noted, this is not the first redefinition of marriage that has occurred in America. The redefinition has actually come in three stages:

  1. In 1969 the first no-fault divorce law was signed in California. Within 15 years every state in this land had similar laws that made divorce easy. No longer did state laws uphold the principle which the Catechism describes as a partnership of the whole of life. Now marriage was redefined as a contract easily broken by the will of the spouses.
  2. The dramatic rise in contraceptive use and the steep drop in birthrates, though not a legal redefinition, amount to a kind of cultural redefinition of marriage as described in the Catechism which sees the procreation and education of offspring as integral to its very nature. Now the American culture saw this aspect as optional at the will of the spouses. Having sown in the wind (where we redefined not only marriage, but sex itself) we are now reaping the whirlwind of deep sexual confusion and a defining of marriage right out of existence.
  3. This final blow of legally recognizing so called gay “marriage” completes the redefinition of marriage which the Catechism describes as being a covenant, …which a man and a woman establish between themselves. Now secular American culture is removing even this, calling same-sex relationships “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. The secular world excluded every aspect of what the Church means by marriage. Is it time for us to accept this and start using a different word? Perhaps it is, and I would like to propose what I did back in March of 2010, that we return to an older 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 complementarity. 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 muddle that has “marriage” for its nomen.

Problems to resolve – To return to this phrase “Holy Matrimony” is to return to an older tradition and may sound archaic to some (but at least it isn’t as awkward sounding as “wedlock”). But clearly a new usage will be difficult to undertake. It is one thing to start officially referring to it as Holy Matrimony. (Which, by the way I have done in my parish – we no longer prepare people for marriage, but for “Holy Matrimony”) But it is harder when, for example, a newly engaged couple approaches the priest and says, “We want to be married next summer.” It seems unlikely we easily train couples to say, “We want to enter Holy Matrimony next summer.” or even just to say, “We want to have a wedding next summer.” Such dramatic changes seem unlikely to come easily. Perhaps you, who read this blog can offer some resolutions to this problem.

Perhaps, even if we cannot wholly drop the terms “marry, ” “marriage” and “married” a more modest form of the proposal is that we at least officially discontinue the use of the word marriage and refer to it as the “Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.”

What do you think? Do we need to start using a new word for marriage? Has the word been so stripped of meaning that we have to use different terminology to convey what we really mean?

When I proposed this two years ago this very time, many of you we rather unconvinced and some were even perturbed that we were handing on over our vocabulary to the libertines. That may be, but we already know that “gay” will never mean what it used to, and it would seem that  “marriage” will never again mean what it did.

A secondary but related proposal is that we begin to consider getting out of the business of having our clergy act as civil magistrates in weddings. Right now we clergy in most of America sign the civil license and act, as such, as partners with the State. But with increasing States interpreting marriage so differently, can we really say we are partners? Should we even give the impression of credibility to the State’s increasingly meaningless piece of paper? It may remain the case that the Catholic faithful, for legal and tax reasons may need to get a civil license, but why should clergy have anything to do with it?

Frankly, I am uncomfortable signing DC Marriage licenses, and do so only because my Ordinary has indicated we should continue doing this. I am happy to obey him in this and defer to his judgment in the matter. There is a reason his is the Ordinary and I am not. That said, I have told him what I think. But for now, it seems clear we must stay the course and still sign them until the Bishop says, no more.

If we did stop signing civil licenses, we would surely need a strong catechesis directed to our faithful that reiterates that civil “marriage” (what ever that means anymore) is not Holy Matrimony and that they should, in no way consider themselves as wed, due to a (meaningless) piece of paper from a secular state that reflects only confusion and darkness rather than clarity and Christian light.

Here too, what do you think? Should the Catholic Bishops disassociate Catholic clergy from civil “marriage” licenses?

Supreme Mistake – A Response to the Supreme Court Decisions on Same-Sex Unions

062613The decisions of the Supreme Court regarding marriage today were disappointing but not surprising. Especially disappointing was the decision turning away “Proposition 8” where California voters rejected the status of  legal marriage for same-sex attracted couples. The court seemed to set aside that proposition for technical reasons. This is not a legal blog, and hence I am not equipped to speak to legal aspects of the questions. And frankly, I am not at all certain that a Proposition 8 were it voted on again today, would pass.

For indeed, I think many of us who support traditional marriage are bewildered by the kind of tsunami that has swept over our culture in regards to this matter. DOMA passed not so long ago with an overwhelming majority in the House and Senate, and was signed into law by a relatively liberal President, Bill Clinton. More recently, Proposition 8 passed in the rather liberal state of California. Now, just a few years later, polls show that over 60% of Californians want Proposition 8 removed.

Yes, there have been dramatic shifts, and within such a very short number of years! Perhaps “tsunami” is a adequate description, or that it almost seems as if some hallucinogen has suddenly had its effects on American opinion.

And while this is also not a political blog, it seems, culturally that proponents of same-sex unions have scored their victory by successfully shifting the terms of the discussion away from marriage per se, to the rights of the individual adults in the question. The legal analysis of the attorney for the plaintiffs in these cases indicated that a crucial factor in his victory was that his side was able to demonstrate damages incurred by the plaintiffs, whereas of those who opposed them could show forth “no damages” in permitting the same-sex unions to be recognized.

Culturally and politically this also seems to be the essence of the problem, that the focus is on the rights of the adults in the question, not on what is best for children. And we Catholics too, who engage to debate on behalf of traditional marriage, often fall into this trap of focusing on the adults in the equation, not on the children, and what is best and just for children.

Simply put, the Church has, and must continue to oppose every erosion of traditional marriage because traditional marriage is what is best for children. And while it is true that we have a pastoral concern to call to repentance those who commit serious sexual sins, such as fornication, adultery, and homosexual acts, from the public policy point of view the Church’s stance on marriage is that traditional marriage is what is best and just for children. Hence to act in ways, or adopt policies that further erode traditional marriage, is to act unjustly. It is unjust because it fosters and encourages a climate that is increasingly poisonous and problematic for the children who are raised in it.

And hence, our objection to the legal recognition of Same-sex unions is not only an objection to homosexual aberrations, but also to other assaults on the family such as fornication, cohabitation, polygamy, no-fault divorce, intentionally single motherhood, and fatherhood, and so forth. Every child deserves, and has the right to be raised by his father and mother, who have committed themselves to a lifelong stable union.

Psychologically as well, every child deserves to have a father and mother. The father both teaches and forms his child in the way a mother cannot. Likewise for the mother, she also teachers and forms a child in ways that a father cannot.

Given what is best for children, the Church holds that it is reasonable to expect that traditional marriage and the traditional family be upheld and encouraged in our culture. Fornication and cohabitation should be shunned. Where adoption is necessary, the traditional family setting should be sought and have the preeminence among any other sort of setting. Only in rare cases where a traditional setting absolutely cannot be found, the children be put into less than ideal settings such as with one mother, or one father, or same-sex couples and so forth.

Further, as a culture, we ought not go on celebrating all sorts of other “diverse” forms of family and marriage. This does not help children, but it harms them by further fostering less than ideal family settings.

One may wish to argue the legal aspects of giving special recognition in terms of benefits and other legal rights to traditional families. There are possibly legitimate legal arguments about the equal protection clause etc.

But as a principle, it is not unreasonable that a culture might seek to foster traditional family settings and bestow special benefits upon a traditional family to encourage such settings. And thus, prescinding from all the legal questions that may surrounded special benefits, as a principle the Church does support certain special benefits and prerogatives be given to traditional families.

Again, the bottom line is we want to support and foster what is best for children. The traditional family setting, with a father and a mother in a lifelong committed relationship of marriage, and raising their children in that setting is what is best for children. It is what we must seek to promote.

As a faith community, we set forth what God himself has set forth. God’s wisdom is also vindicated by the common sense of natural law. Traditional marriage, is what is best, and what is just for children.

Supreme Mistake – The systematic dismantling of traditional marriage through sexual irresponsibility, fornication, adultery, easy divorce, and now elevating as same sex unions to the status of legal marriage, all shred what children need and deserve, namely, traditional marriage.

The Supremes of SCOTUS have weighed in on the topic, but it is we who have made the supreme mistake, as a culture. We have made a mess of the family over the last 60 years. Sadly, it our children who suffer, and our children yet to be born will suffer by our supreme mistakes.

Who Gets to Decide?

I was at a rally today sponsored by the Stand4 Coalition. I also witnessed the leaders of this coaltion file at the DC Board of Elections a ballot initative  on the issue of same sex “marriage.”  The Initiative,  if approved would place on the ballot for a vote by all the citizens of the District of Columbia the following delcaration: “Only marriage between a man and woman is valid or recognized in the District of Columbia.”

What is at stake here is the definition of Marriage in the District and who gets to say what that is. Some months ago the DC City Council decided, without holding hearings, to recognize same-sex unions from other jurisdictions.  Currently, there are plans by David Catania and others on the Council to enact further legislation to recognize same-sex unions contracted right here in DC.

The definition of Marriage is NOT something that should be left to 13 people decide. This is too important for such limited input. It deserves to be brought before all the voters of this city who have a stake in what is determined. Marriage is not some bureaucratic or merely legal entity, it is a pillar of civilization. The arrogance of the City Council in refusing even to hold public hearings before the last vote is manifestly undemocratic. It seems clear that advocates of same-sex unions have little interest in hearing from the voters on this critical issue.

But you ought to pay careful attention to this issue for its implications are sweeping. At stake is the definition of marriage as well as the democratic process. Will marriage be simply defined by legislators in closed door session, by blunt judicial fiats or willit be decided by the citizens of the District of Columbia after thoughtful discussion and preparation for a vote? These are significant issues and you and I ought to pay attention and participate in the process. Learn more of this at

I would like to conclude by quoting from a letter of Archbishop Wuerl who reminded the priests of this Archdiocese that we, as a Church have the duty to speak and teach clearly on this matter:

The definition of marriage originates in the created order and comes from the natural law. At the core of the Church’s teaching on family life is God’s plan for the human race set forth so majestically in the Book of Genesis. The original plan — still operative today — calls for the man and woman to come together and form a communion of mutual support. “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him” (Gen 2:18). This partnership is to be a permanent one. This teaching was confirmed explicitly by Jesus himself: “…Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Matt 19:6).  As custodian of these truths, the Church is compelled to preach this to the world.

Archdiocese of Washington Issues Statement on City Council Recognition of Same-Sex Marriage

Archdiocese of Washington on D.C. City Council Vote to Recognize Same-Sex Relationships from Other States:

The Archdiocese of Washington is gravely concerned that the District of Columbia City Council has voted to recognize same-sex “marriages” from other states. This vote shows a lack of understanding of the true meaning of marriage.   

Furthermore, considering the importance of this issue for families throughout the city, the archdiocese is dismayed that the Council chose to push this measure through as an amendment without hearings or giving their constituents the opportunity to voice their concerns to their elected officials. 

Marriage is a natural institution established by God and written in the very nature of man and woman and is therefore endowed with its own proper laws. The equality of men and women and the dignity of their coming together as husband and wife is not merely a fact of religious faith or a institution established by civil authorities, but a fundamental reality rooted in human nature and experience. Civil marriage is not simply a union of two people who love each other and are committed to each other, but it is reserved to the union of one man and one woman because of their unique ability to bring children into the world, which forms a stable and secure foundation for our society. 

By bestowing unmarried couples the same status as those who are married, this measure dismisses the true meaning of marriage. We urge our elected officials to respect the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman as understood throughout all time.