I was reading a statement by the Archbishop of Rhode Island, I loved what he has to say. I especially was enthralled by his closing in which he suggested that the solution to the sacramental marriage problem in this country might lie in practicing civil disobedience by having priests refuse to sign the civil declarations of marriage for the state. It struck me, that this was an extremely effective and nonviolent means of further separating church state and allowing the church to reassert control over that which is rightly within the purview of churches, as marriage is ordained by God and it is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. No civil authority has the right to bestow a sacrament nor to dissolve a sacrament. It’s time that we took such power away from the government and returned it to the church where rightfully belongs.
Sacramental marriage is a sacrament of the Catholic church. As a sacrament it is not subject to civil oversight or control. However, it has been too often recently that civil government’s and the courts have decided they have the right, and even the obligation, to place strictures, controls, rules, and regulations on marriage. Many of these have become points of contention for Catholics who do not wish to be subject to same-sex marriage, civil divorce, marriage penalty taxes, and other assorted problems associated with civil marriage.
In order to best defend the church against such aggression by civil government, one has only to look at the example set by St. Valentine when he married Roman soldiers against the edict of the Roman Empire. He was both martyred and sainted for his efforts. In truth, history and tradition as well as doctrine all support the idea that marriage is a religious sacrament, not a civil arrangement for mutual convenience.
Given the interference from the courts here in America today, it is clear that for the church to maintain her stand on sacramental marriage requires that sacramental marriage be separated from civil unions at some point. It seems equally clear to me that the best time to make this break is now. It is hard to lose a game if one simply folds and refuses to play further, as it stands we are not winning the fight – nor the hearts and minds in the civil marriage arena to have it reflective of sacramental marriage.
Removing the civil marriage from the Catholic Church would create a number of benefits directly addressing the needs of families. These benefits would include the marriage penalty effectively being eliminated, concerns for young men and women about civil divorce effectively being eliminated since there is no government sanctioned marriage for a civil authority to dismiss with the wave of the pen. In addition, there are additional benefits for those who want the resources necessary or would give up crucial benefits necessary to survival if they were to enter into a civil marriage. Such as stand by the church would allow for people to marry sacramentally and lead holy lives with their families in full keeping with church teaching, without negative repercussions in today’s increasingly secular and hedonistic civil society. What’s more, it would also prevent the church from being further dictated to by any government about whom they will or won’t marry, what marriages they will recognize, and whether not they must perform those marriages or face draconian legal and civil/criminal actions as recent lawsuits against ordained minister’s for failing to perform same-sex marriages raise the specter of.
In short, it is long past time that we restored marriage to its rightful place as the sacrament of matrimony, and it is very important that we preserve and protect the sacrament against interference from secular society. No longer should the civil authorities be able to dissolve a sacramental marriage with a decree. No longer will impoverished couples find themselves unable to marry for financial reasons. It’s time for us to look past man-made civil authorities and governments when discussing marriage, and put it back in its rightful context “under God”. Because in the end, it will be the reestablishment of God, instead of civil authorities, as the sole authority in our lives that makes the difference – The difference that allows us to live in the world, but not be of the world.