Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Two models of marriage

The Vatican made waves recently by repeating yet again that it will never bless gay marriages. To people who actually follow that conversation, it came as no surprise. Despite liberals who think Pope Francis is on their team, and traditionalists who think he's dismantling the church stone by marble stone, the institution has tremendous ideological momentum. It's not shifting an inch on this, at the very least, not until it's been long enough that they can plausibly pretend they never were against gay marriage in the first place.

What it really comes down to (as Catholics keep patiently explaining, because they think we don't get it) is a different view of what marriage is, what it's for.

The modern view of marriage is that it's a commitment of two people who love each other to do life together. That it can take different forms based on what the people want. Even the vows said at modern marriages are often hand-written by the couple from scratch: they decide what they're committing to, and while other people are invited to witness, they don't really get to decide what that couple's marriage means.

The Catholic view is much more communitarian. There is one thing that marriage is, and you sign up for it or you don't. That's symbolized by a wedding liturgy that's mostly rigid. If you're lucky, you might be able to pick one of a list of readings, and the music. The vows, you simply repeat.

This marriage model is centered around the creation of a family with children. You can have a marriage without them, but you have to be open to them in theory. They even ask you if you are willing to welcome them in the ceremony. I also got prayed over, individually, with a prayer that I be blessed with children. I was, at the time, down for it, but in retrospect it seems very strange.

Because my wedding was not about me (as more than one priest felt the need to remind me at the time). It was about the community, and me taking my place in one of the roles intended for serving that community: wife, nun, or single person. Each of these is a vocation, a calling to service. The specific difference of the vocation I chose was parenthood.

The Church will remind anyone who listens that marriage, historically, existed for children, to create a stable family for them. Even before Jesus, people were getting married, and they mostly did it to keep track of which children were whose and to support those children's mothers. Love was more optional.

The church has presided over weddings of twelve-year-old girls and fourteen-year-old boys. (The minimums are slightly older now.) It has married princesses to princes they'd never met at the command of their parents. It has preached the dominance of husband over wife, and then later their equality. The important thing was that the couple intended to have sex that had some chance of being procreative. And no sex can ever be had besides that kind, within marriage. Contraception of course is out. Because that's not what marriage is for. Catholic marriage is for children.

Naturally, if that's what it's about, gay marriage is never going to be a thing. They might love each other, they might intend to stay together for life, but they can't reproduce together naturally, through procreative sex, so it's not Catholic marriage.

But what that really makes me think is this: who looks at these two visions of marriage with their eyes wide open and picks the Catholic ideal? Who picks the one where they are signing up for a prefab framework they can't alter, which is purely about begetting and raising children as a service to the community? Who signs up to have their equality to their husband be a matter for debate? History is all very well, but history was terrible for most people, especially for women. Historically-accurate marriage was no great thing.

I now believe in human agency a lot more than I did. I believe that people should get married if they love each other and choose to. I believe that marriage could have sex as a part of it, or not. It could have children coming along, or not. It could be held in a church as part of a larger community, or not.

The worst part of this debate is that the Catholic Church does not believe that people should get to choose how they think about marriage. It wants its version to be dominant and non-optional. It does not believe gay couples should be able to get married by the state, adopt children, or be recognized as equal in any way. It has combated every step modern society has taken to revise the idea of marriage, from contraception to no-fault divorce. In America, it's already trying to hide that history and saying "it's JUST that we can't bless your marriage, don't we get religious freedom?"

But I remember. It wants to impose a procreation-focused marriage ideal on everyone. It is willing to use legal force to do so, because it thinks it's the Good Cop helping you cooperate before you get handed over to the Bad Cop, which is God. There really isn't any room for compromise between their vision and the world's.

I just think the world's idea is better.
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