Is it time the Catholic Church got out of the marriage business?

From: The Catholic Herald

It’s time we considered adopting the French system


Is it time for the Church to leave this to the state? (AP Photo)

Is it time for the Church to leave this to the state? (AP Photo)

An item in the Telegraph for 21 July has caught my attention. It concerns advice given to Sikh temples as a consequence of the new law on same-sex marriage. It seems that these temples have been advised by their own advisory body “to halt all civil marriage ceremonies on their premises to protect them from possible legal challenges for refusing to conduct same-sex weddings.” It is the first religious group to consider this course of action.

I can understand why the Church of England would not be keen to surrender its licence to conduct the civil formalities of a marriage, because it is the national Church and cannot easily separate itself from the state. But I am surprised that the Catholic Church, which has stood out against this new legislation alongside the Sikhs and the United Jewish Synagogue, has not (yet) thought of doing the same thing. The Sikh advisory body, which sent the letter of advice to all Sikh temples or gurdwaras, sounds clear-sighted and realistic. They are not persuaded that the so-called “quadruple lock”, designed to protect certain groups from being compelled to carry out same-sex weddings, would offer any protection under the European Court of Human Rights if a challenge were brought to its notice.

Harmander Singh, principal adviser to the Sikhs in England commented that “we are concerned that he quadruple lock isn’t going to be worth the paper it is written on.” I agree with him. If gurdwaras were to “deregister” as venues for civil weddings, couples would have to go through a separate ceremony in a register office as well as their own religious wedding rites. This is what happens in France, where couples have a civil wedding at the town hall with a separate church service if they choose. What’s wrong with that? Of course, it is a neat arrangement to combine these two aspects, civil and religious, under one roof but it isn’t necessary. Indeed, to separate them would emphasise for Christians the religious nature of marriage. It would also remove Christian marriage from the possibility of state interference.

Fr Dwight Longenecker, an American priest and popular blogger, made the same point in a recent blog. He has decided not to register weddings any longer when he conducts marriages in his parish church. He will advise Catholic couples who come to him to have a civil marriage and then follow it with a nuptial Mass in church. He intends to call this “Holy Matrimony”, to distinguish it from the word “marriage” which no longer means what it has always been understood to mean: the union of a man and a woman. Perhaps this should be the way forward for the Church in this country too? Harmander Singh says it straight: “We have no authority, neither has the Government, to change our scriptures. We are bound by our religious teachings and we have been put in a difficult position.”

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8 Responses to Is it time the Catholic Church got out of the marriage business?

  1. kathleen says:

    This French system is probably the only way to go forward now…. and therefore safeguard the Catholic Church’s timeless teachings on the sacred institution of marriage. Who could have thought we would have come to this a decade or so ago?!

    But wait…. if the secular authorities are going to change the meaning of ‘marriage’ and befoul its sacred name, let’s do what Fr. Dwight Longnecker (and others) are suggesting, and call it solely ‘Holy Matrimony’ from now on. It’s a good idea!

    (Two can play at Toad’s game of making words mean what we want them to mean! ;-))


  2. Interesting solution. In the old days the bride and groom exchanged vows on the steps of the church – they did not even go inside. There was no grand ceremony, no ring, no wedding dress – just private vows between a man and a woman with a few witnesses or so.


  3. Stephen says:

    Interestingly, the Orthodox marriage service is not accepted as sufficient to contract a legal marriage (in the civil sense) because there are no vows exchanged. In fact, the bride and groom speak only once each during the service – to confirm that they are at the service of their own free will and each wishes to be married to the other. The Orthodox understanding is that the man and woman have already made their vows to each other, and the Church is “merely” publicly solemnising that which God has already joined together.


  4. “The Orthodox understanding is that the man and woman have already made their vows to each other, and the Church is “merely” publicly solemnising that which God has already joined together.”

    This is also the Catholic understanding. We do not have a legal leg to stand on in the West, because civl marriage has already changed. it’s not about children, permanence, or gender.

    Now, countries that have not accepted our definition of marriage, should not be forced to do so.

    The only mad people will be gay Catholics, who want to change the church.


  5. Roger says:

    One step at a time. The Engagement was and is this cojoining of the man and woman , with the intent of obtaining the Marriage Sacrament (a Blessing isn’t a Sacrament in this context). Our Lord elevated this cojoinging into a vessel of Divine Life and Grace a Sacrament and the Church through the priest whilst witnessing the public exchange of vows His primary role is the Confering of the Sacrament. This can only be done through a validly ordained priest, Christ enters that marriage which becomes sacred and holy in Gods eyes.
    The secular wedding is not sacramental BUT STILL BINDING IN GODS EYES.
    What needs to happen right now is a banning of the secular authority and rights against Christ and His Church. We are the States good servants BUT GODS FIRST!
    Marxism is Deifying the State and this was what Pagan Rome presumed.
    There is no such thing as same sex marriage in God’s eyes and just like Henry VIII and His Reformers indeed the same conflict fought by St Thomas A’Beckett GOD FIRST!
    With marriage GOD First.
    Toad get the State out of marriage!


  6. “The secular wedding is not sacramental BUT STILL BINDING IN GODS EYES.”

    This is only if you have never been divorced.


  7. johnhenrycn says:

    “Nearly half of all Americans believe that church weddings should not be connected to the state’s definition and recognition of marriage.”

    Makes a lot of sense. Completely separating Christian marriage from legal contracts, is one way to stick a finger in the eye of the LGBT lobby, which has done its level best to degrade and besmirch the holy sacrament. To completely refuse granting civil certificates, even to devout Catholic couples, is a polite way of making the point that civil unions are not the same thing as marriages. So, when a gay couple phones the rectory, the secretary can say: “The sacrament of holy matrimony celebrated here does not mean you are conjoined in the eyes of the law, which is what you want. Please call City Hall and book an appointment with the deputy clerk responsible for processing certificates. Here’s her number…”


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