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Bad ideas know no borders

May 5, 2015

I do not know Irish marriage law but my impression is that it operates rather as does marriage law in the United States, specifically, that clergy who officiate at religious weddings can certify those rites for civil effects. Some Irish prelates, however, faced with the possibility that Ireland might recognize “same-sex marriage”, are apparently threatening to refuse to certify any religious weddings for the state, such that Catholic spouses who wish the civil benefits of marriage (and they are many!) would have to go through a second, state-sponsored ceremony to secure those benefits.

If that is the idea, then it’s just as bad an idea in Ireland as it is over here. I’ve made this argument many times, but will summarize again.

The State has a right to know who is married and married couples have the right to the civil benefits accorded married couples. It is a good for the State and a good for the faithful if immediate and direct civil recognition can be accorded couples married in religious ceremonies. No one can seriously argue otherwise.

What some fear—and I understand their fear, however wrong it is—is that, in the wake of a civil redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples, religious ministers will suddenly be required to certify same-sex couples as married (says who?) and therefore (as if there were a logical imperative here, which there is not) we should preemptively cease certifying religiously married couples as married. How on earth does one arrive at that conclusion? Certifying as married, couples that are married, is a good! The fact that others might certify as married, couples that are not married is a bad, but their bad action does not make our good action into a bad.

Consider, for some decades past the State’s faulty understanding of marriage has resulted in the State certifying as married all sorts of couples whom we would hold as not married, namely, divorced and remarried couples. Those “marriages” are canonically null for prior bond (ligamen, c. 1085), but we don’t forbid Catholic clergy from certifying as married the couples over whom we officiate, just because the State will certify as married some couples (over whom we do not officiate) as married, do we? So why the ill-considered threat to cease certifying our couples married religiously as married, just because the State also treats as married some couples whom we know are not married?

Ah! comes the retort, the State might require us to officiate at same-sex-weddings! Oh, really? Has the State ever required us to officiate at the weddings of divorced persons? No. And if the State did suddenly require Catholic ministers to officiate at the weddings of simply divorced persons, or of same-sex couples, we would refuse. Flatly. Both scenarios are non-negotiable lines beyond which Catholics may not go. And if the State, in retaliation for such a Faith-demanded refusal, revoked their recognition of our religious weddings, that decision is on their heads, not ours.

In the meantime, we can and should cooperate with the State in regard to marriage for so long as what the State requires is not contrary to divine or canon law (c. 22). And certifying religiously married Catholics as married in the eyes of civil law is not remotely contrary to divine or canon law.

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