But God did not create man a solitary being. From the beginning “male and female he created them” (Gn 1:27). This partnership of man and woman constitutes the first form of communion between persons.
–Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes (1965), no. 12[i]
What is marriage?
The question of what marriage is has been largely ignored in debates about who can get married. Before asking who can get married, one should ask what “marriage” is. What is this relationship that two (or more) people want the state to recognize, and why should society care about it?
Let’s see what definitions are out there and how they measure up to what we all kinda-sorta-in-our-bones know about what marriage is.
Google: the legally or formally recognized union of a man and a woman (or, in some jurisdictions, two people of the same sex) as partners in a relationship.
“Union… as partners in a relationship.” Well, what kind of relationship? What about business partnerships or siblings? What kind of union?
Merriam-Webster: a (1): the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law (2): the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage <same-sex marriage>
This one is interesting because, as you see, the authors have to resort to comparing “the state of being united to a person of the same sex” as being like “traditional marriage” in order to explain it. It’s definitely better than Google’s definition, since it gets to the parties “being united… in a consensual and contractual relationship” but once again, we could say that the same would apply to different kinds of “consensual and contractual relatinoships”.
Oxford Dictionary: The legally or formally recognized union of two people as partners in a personal relationship (historically and in some jurisdictions specifically a union between a man and a woman).
This is probably the most accurate definition of the way the majority of people understand marriage today: “union of two people as partners in a personal relationship.” It is worth asking, then, why the government has any interest in personal relationships.
It seems like all these definitions lack something.
If you really take the time to think about the definition of marriage, you will discover that there is only one definition of marriage that truly fits with who we are as human beings (body and soul, male and female) and seems to get at what is fundamental: marriage is the lifelong, exclusive union of one man and one woman, open to life.[ii]
This definition expresses what marriage is when it is lived truly, and this is a grace available to every married couple. But in this world of brokenness, we have all witnessed a general weakening of people’s understanding and living out this truth. The cultural and legal connections among marriage, sexual intercourse, childbearing, and childrearing have been slowly chipped away at, whether through acceptance of extra-marital sex and cohabitation on the one hand, or third-party reproduction on the other. One can easily see that our society as a whole has lost a consciousness of what men and women are called to be for one another.
God’s vision and plan for marriage is an ideal but it is not idealistic. As Pope Francis taught in Amoris Laetitia, “in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur.”[iii] And again, he writes, “Married couples are grateful that their pastors uphold the high ideal of a love that is strong, solid, enduring and capable of sustaining them through whatever trials they may have to face.”[iv] Marriage is a communion of persons, a communion of love between husband and wife, meant to be the source of the family and society. That’s why, when the Pharisees questioned Jesus about divorce, He refered back to creation, when Adam and Eve were given in relationship to one another for life (see Mt 19:4-6; Mk 10:6-8).[v]
The series we are beginning on the MUR blog next week accompanies short segments of the video Made for Each Other. In this video, actors playing Josh and Carrie discuss the importance of sexual difference to marriage and the complementarity between man and woman. During these four weeks, we will explore these themes a bit more. Much of the posts will contain text found in the Viewer’s Guide of Made for Each Other. The questions provided can be used for personal reflection or for group discussion.
[i] See Austin Flannery, ed., Vatican Council II: Volume 1: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, new rev. ed. (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing, 1996).
[ii] See CCC, nos. 1601-1605.
[iii] Amoris Laetitia, no. 307.
[iv] Amoris Laetitia, no. 200.
[v] See Pope John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (TOB), trans. Michael Waldstein (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006), 1–4 (audience numbers); Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Veritatis Splendor (Washington, DC: USCCB, 1993), nos. 22 and 53.