PROPOSAL TO END CIVIL RECOGNITION OF MARRIAGE MORE PROBLEMATIC THAN IT APPEARS
by John Charlton
World Net Daily is reporting that Cass Sunstein is suggesting the abolition of the civil recognition of marriage. This appears to be at once an implicit recognition of defeat by the progressives to alter the natural definition of marriage in U.S. Law; and at the same time a renewed attack on the Christian institutions of the Nation.
The proposal seemes to be aimed at forging a unity between two groups: those who hold for an alternate definition of marriage, and those who hold that the state should not enter into the regulation of marriage.
Nevertheless the proposal is also a very dangerous one, because it undermines the Natural Law basis of the State’s recognition of human generation.
Among Catholics, for example, it has been the persistent teaching of the Church that the state should not intrude into the regulation of marriage. Hence some Catholics might be open to Sunstein’s proposal, because the Catholic Church had long opposed the civil registration of Catholic marriages, as an intrustion into the Church’s authority, on the basis that it undermined Christian marriage. This is not to say that the Church opposed the recognition of Catholic marriages by civil authorities, in Catholic and non-Catholic countries; but rather that it opposed the recognition of non-Catholic forms of marriage contracted by catholics, in Catholic countries. The Catholic Church’s position is that the Sacrament of matrimony fell wholly under its jurisdiction; while the civil institution, which is a natural one, was not entirely controllable by the state.
Pope Leo XIII just over a century ago, spoke to the Catholic Bishops of Peru on this point:
We are concerned about the whole Christian flock, as Our apostolic duties require, for We have given frequent instruction concerning the sanctity of marriage. Jesus Christ, the author of the new covenant, translated the duty of nature into sacraments, and this duty cannot be divorced from religion and immersed in worldly affairs. Preceded by sacred rite, it can bring about a more tranquil and happy life for the spouses, strengthen family harmony, raise children more correctly, and suitably provide for the welfare of its community. Indeed, We have treated this matter in greater detail in Our apostolic letter Arcanum divinae sapientiae consilium. In that letter We wanted to remind the faithful of the vigilant cares which the Church has shown for preserving the honor and sanctity of marriage, for the Church is the best guardian and avenger of mankind. We also reminded the civil authorities of what matters they could rightfully regulate. It is not necessary for Us to bring each of these examples to your attention. It is, however, relevant to mention again that the leaders of the state have authority in human affairs which led to marriage and generally concern civil matters. However, in the truly Christian marriage, they have no authority, for this matter should be left to the jurisdiction of the Church, which is not established by men. If the marriage contract is properly performed – that is, as Christ established it – then they will be able to see if anything which pertains to civil law might follow. It is Catholic teaching that the dignity of the sacrament adds to the marriage of Christians; nobody can depart from this without losing faith. For that reason, these matters should be governed by the divine authority of the Church alone. No marriage can be considered firmly ratified unless it is joined according to Church law and discipline.
Non-catholics would not share the Roman Pontiff’s view of Church authority over marriage, even Christian marriage, but an important point needs not be omitted: namely that the Catholic Church promoted 2 things by its marriage laws and insistence that the civil authorities not arrogate to themselves the regulation of marriage, namely:
1. She promoted Christian marriage,
2. She promoted natural-law marriage.
These are two different things, and the distinction is important when considering Sustein’s proposal. And this applies to all Christian churches, who upheld or uphold traditional marriage.
It is without question that Christians have a notion of marriage which differs from other religions. But in Christians’ notion of marriage, which is derived from the teaching of Jesus Christ,
” . . . a man leaves mother and father, and cleaves to his wife . . .”,
and “In the beginning it was not that way”,
and “Moses gave you the decree of divorce on account of the hardness of your hearts,”
the concept of marriage they are explicitly affirming is monogamous, or natural-law marriage, of one man with one woman.
Obviously, the state does not promote religion, and therefore ought not regulate Christian marriage.
However monogamous marraige (a.k.a “tradition marriage”), of which Christian marriage is a sub-category or species, is of itself worthy of state recognition. For if anything but one man and one woman can have the same equal status in law as one man and woman united in matrimony; then a whole host of issues and rights becomes indefensible in civil law:
1. Rights of women to be treated as equals in a marriage;
2. Rights of female minors not to be forced into marriages;
3. Rights of women not to be forced into polygamous unions:
4. Rights of children not to be sexually exploited in the name of marriage;
5. Rights of women to protect themselves against marital infidelity;
6. Rights of children to have a mother and a father;
7. Rights of all to not be forced to recognize forms of marriage which are morally abhorrent to the laws of nature.
8. Rights of all not to be forced to recognize forms of marriage which are contrary to their religious beliefs.
Since natural-law marriages are not contrary to the religious traditions of any religion, they are politically and religiously neutral, even if the cultural force for their recognition was historically the Catholic Church and the Jewish rabbis.
Today in a post-Christian world, the stability of the public order is greatly endangered by any thoughtful attempt to change civil marriage laws.
If the state abandons the civil recognition of traditional marriage, the law will concede space to those who practice un-natural forms of marriage; and that will lead to the erosion of the American culture and the stability of political order which the U.S.A. has enjoyed for 200 years.
Indeed there is an inherent logic behind the idea that a secular state ought to reocognize and protect traditional or natural-law marriage: namely in this, that a child, being conceived by one father and mother, in the natural course of things, has a right to be nurtured and cared for by those same two parents; and has a duty to care and provide for them in their old age. This is the natural law basis for the family, the most fundamental unit of human society, and any state which wishes stability, better defend its foundations!
That Cass Sunstein is proposing this abolition of civil marriage, should make everyone take notice that mischief is afoot.
That he was appointed by a man whose own mother was twice divorced, says something about the motives of the proposal.
Anarchy is never a proposal that increases order and prosperity. The good of monogamous marriages is evident to all; if the state recognition of these is undermined, women’s rights and children’s rights will suffer dramatically.
Sustein’s proposal seems to be an attempt to garner the support of Muslims, homosexual activists, libertarians and Mormons for the Obama regime. But at the cost of abandoning state promotion of the most fundamental union of human persons, in a form which is the most beneficial for the formation and education of children.