What the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in June pertained to the legal aspects of marriage; its allowing for same-sex marriage is not, and cannot be, an ethically Christian decision.
For Catholic Christians, marriage is defined by Sacred Scripture as read by and within the Church. This definition, which cannot be altered, affirms that marriage – 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….” In this sense, marriage “has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.” (Code of Canon Law, Can. 1055; see also Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1601)
The word “sacrament” here means that marriage for a Catholic ranks with the seven most sacred events in human experience. Catholic belief is that marriage as defined above did not emerge from the State, nor from human customs, practices, sciences or invention. On the contrary, its Author is God, the Creator; and its elevation to a sacrament occurred in and through Christ and the Apostles. As the Catechism teaches: “God himself is the Author of marriage.” (1603)
This is our faith. As Catholics we affirm, confess, and live by the wisdom of Sacred Scripture as read within the Church – the Bible and Tradition, as conveyed by the Church’s Magisterium.
From Sacred Scripture, we learn that Christ our Lord worked his first public sign at a wedding reception in Cana of Galilee. He was there, in other words, to emphasize the sacredness of the nuptial state. Later, Saint Paul, in his monumental Epistle to the Ephesians, declared in the Spirit (remember, Ephesians is divinely inspired) that marriage is comparable to Christ’s union with the Church. (5:22, sqq.) This is an awesome Revelation, one that a creature could not have made on his or her own.
Again, the above-stated doctrine is of Christian faith. Furthermore, it is a doctrine that has been set forth repeatedly down through the ages. Pope Pius XI, for example, reiterated it in his encyclical Casti Connubii (1930); likewise, Vatican Council II in its Pastoral Constitution, The Church in the Modern World (1965); also Pope John Paul II in his eloquent Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio (1981).
The great Saint Augustine wrote in the fourth century that “the first natural tie of human society is man and wife.” In the same vein, Vatican Council II described marriage as “a community of love.” (Gaudium et Spes, 47) The intimate partnership of married life and love, it added, “has been established by the Creator and qualified by his laws and is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent…. As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union and the good of the children impose total fidelity on the spouses and argue for an unbreakable oneness between them.” (Ibid., 48)
“God, who is love, created man out of love and for love,” wrote Pope John Paul in his Letter to Families (1994). Alone of all creatures, man, male and female, was created in the likeness of God…, from whose hands “he has received the world… together with the task of shaping it into his own image and likeness. The fulfillment of this task gives rise to civilization, which in the final analysis is nothing else than the humanization of the world.”
Such, in summary, is the ethical aspect of marriage, as understood and believed by Catholic Christianity.
Given what Christians believe about marriage, the word “marriage” ought not be employed for just any union of a man and a woman. On the contrary, the word should be reserved for the sacrament as such. It is really an awesome institution, singularly graced by the Lord.
Msgr. David Q. Liptak is Executive Editor of The Catholic Transcript and censor librorum for the Archdiocese of Hartford.