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Eight Short Essays

Eight Short Essays: Article 6


Article 6: What is so wrong with a new definition of Civil marriage?

In Canada, an officiating minister of religion is an officer of the State for marriage. So those who marry in a religious ceremony are at the same time married according to the Law in a Civil marriage.

Civil matrimonial laws existed in Roman times and changed so as to reflect the prevalent mores. They not only decided the conditions under which people could contract a marriage, but also their legal rights and obligations, between themselves and with the community at large.

Today, the rules concerning Catholic and Civil marriages are quite different: a Civil marriage can end in a divorce; divorcees can contract a Civil marriage; a non-Catholic and a Catholic can marry in a Civil ceremony without any condition but not in a Catholic one. The Catholic Church recognizes only a marriage solemnized according to its rites if one of the spouses is Catholic while it recognizes all marriages between non-Catholics. The State recognizes Civil marriages, the ones solemnized by one to whom it delegated that authority.

The common grounds between Civil and Catholic marriages include:
(1) the term «marriage», until now defined as the union between a man and a woman
(2) a limit to how close genetically the spouses can be
(3) the conditions that the two who want to wed must not already be married, must pledge their oath in front of witnesses and a representative of the community, religious and / or civil, after having made known beforehand their intention to wed.

Canada now wants to define Civil marriage as the union between two people, thus permitting two individuals of the same sex to marry, so as to satisfy the fundamental principle of equality of all under the Law.

Some Catholics, Evangelicals, Muslims and Jews are up in arms against such a change. They assert that the State has no right to change the meaning of the term «marriage» which they claim has always been reserved to the union of one man and one woman.

This statement is odd as the Qu'ran clearly permits a man to have three wives and as Moses, Gedeon, David, Salomon and others mentionned in the Holy Books of Christians and Jews had wives galore and concubines to boot!

Jesus' statement that marriage is the union between a man and a woman, the only type of legal union found in His society, was made while arguing that it should not be dissolved at the whim of the husband. What He was challenging was the legal right of husbands to dispose of their wives like the rest of their property. He was insisting on the marriage's egalitarian character and the primacy of this alliance over all others, which are found in Canadian Matrimonial Law. He also saw marriage as a lifelong commitment of both partners, something absent in Civil marriages.

In Jesus' time, as in most of the history of humankind, a man took a wife to have children by her; a woman took a husband to be protected by him and the children he would «give» her. The couple needed children so that they could help provide for them. Sex also gave them relief and pleasure, but that in itself did not provide them with any security or help.

Couples were expecting that their children would work for them as long as they were single and help them afterwards. As couples of the same sex would be childless, they would get no help: marriage between them was pointless.

In today's world, children are not necessary to a couple's survival through old age: savings, pension funds, social policies guarantee that. On the contrary, children are an impediment to their parents' future welfare as they are expensive. Of course, children are needed to provide for the elderly, but in our society the ones who can pay more get better services than the poorer ones, even if these gave society the required manpower.

People today need companionship, love, support more than children. Sex is not basically for procreation, but a way to show love and to get relief from the tension of modern life. In this social environment, marriage between people who cannot procreate through their union is not to their detriment: they either do not bring up children, like many heterosexual couples, or they bring up children born outside their union.

Many have yet to come to terms with this social change. They would love to reverse it, to go back to Jesus' society. Their insistence that children must be brought forth like before regardless of their cost denies that children are now liabilities more than assets; that countless young children died when their parents either did not or could not look after them; that children's rights, among them the ones' preventing them from working, the obligation to send them to school, make them unprofitable to their parents.

Canada recognizes the various religions' rights to set their own rules on what their marriage is, who can partake of it and how it is to be solemnized as the Law states that no minister of religion can be forced to marry people against his religion.The various religious groups should be just as understanding and recognize that Civil authorities have the right to make Civil marriage a reflection of their citizens' vision of what it is and what it is for, what fairness is and how it must be applied.

Memorial of St Mary Magdalen, July 22 th, 2004

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