The Catholic Church is the only organization capable of saving romance from dying in the world. That's because Catholic teaching is the only place where human love and sexuality are properly respected, and marriage properly understood.
This means Catholics have a special duty to back the new federal marriage amendment that was introduced to Congress on July 13.
When a bride and groom stand before their friends and relatives and pledge, with all their hearts, that they will love each other forever, what do other organizations say to them?
The legal profession says, “Fine and nice, but if you're talking about a legal bond I'd have to inform you that in America either party can break the marriage contract for any reason or no reason.”
The psychological establishment says, “Well, if it works out, this marriage will be a benefit to the man and, at best, a mixed bag for the woman. If it doesn't, which is increasingly likely, then maybe these words, said so happily now, will just cause ugly wounds later.”
Unfortunately, too many religious bodies say, “What you are doing is important and significant—but your pledge, alas, needs some qualifications. Be assured that divorce and remarriage are perfectly fine under several conditions.”
But Catholic teaching says, “We take your pledge so seriously we have made it a sacrament. And with the other sacraments, we will be there to help you stay true to your vows.”
The marriage vow, in Catholic teaching, is for real. It's a promise you can't take back. It's real enough that it should give a couple great pause before they marry, to consider whether they are willing to stick it out or not.
Many Catholics have married without understanding or respecting the gravity of this commitment; many without being told about it, even. These the Church has reached out to in a number of ways, through her marriage tribunals and pastoral counseling. But the number of annulments in America is a sign that we should take marriage more seriously, not less.
Catholic teaching on marriage is the most romantic precisely because it is the most serious. Marriage is society's solemn ratification of the promises made by lovers. If society gives couples a wink and a nudge, it has diminished romance. If society lets anyone marry for any reason, with no expectation that a couple will stay together, then it has diminished romance.
And what interest does society have in the preservation of romance? Social stability. Marriage promotes the general welfare of a nation by building the strong bonds that keep a society together and by producing children in loving homes who are cared for by parents who stay together.
If a society begins to grant marriage benefits to any couple, simply because they live together and have sex, it not only encourages a behavior that does society no good, it also prevents it from giving any benefit to the behavior that does build it up.
Earlier this year, the Register published a front-page story about a man with a plan to sap religion of its power in the United States. He is making as many people as possible into ministers. He figures that if hundreds of people (and, as it turned out, animals) with no qualifications were ordained ministers, then ordination would lose its meaning.
Plans to make marriage available to all—including same-sex couples—will have the same kind of effect, on a massive scale.
No one should doubt that some homosexual couples have a real affection for each other and a rewarding relationship. But so do many friends.
A society that accepts any applicant for marriage will in effect be saying to a bride and a groom: “You have promised to love each other forever, which we expect you probably won't do, but you want to have some sort of formal acknowledgment of your commitment, however long it might last, and we'll give you that. Why not? We give it to everybody.”
And that's not very romantic.
It's up to Catholics to be apostles of romance, before romance is killed altogether. A federal amendment that reiterates the definition of marriage is a good place to start.