National Catholic Register


Marriage: A Covenant is Never Temporary

BY Jennifer Fulwiler

| Posted 10/3/11 at 6:47 AM


Well, this is disturbing: Lawmakers in Mexico City are proposing temporary marriage licenses so that couples can opt out of a lifelong commitment:

The minimum marriage contract would be for two years and could be renewed if the couple stays happy. The contracts would include provisions on how children and property would be handled if the couple splits.

“The proposal is, when the two-year period is up, if the relationship is not stable or harmonious, the contract simply ends,” said Leonel Luna, the Mexico City assemblyman who co-authored the bill.

“You wouldn’t have to go through the tortuous process of divorce,” said Luna, from the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, which has the most seats in the 66-member chamber.

Luna says the proposed law is gaining support and he expects a vote by the end of this year.

Erin Manning has a good post highlighting the selfishness in this crazy approach to marriage. What strikes me about it is that these lawmakers have done nothing more than to take a common understanding of marriage—one that even many conservatives and Christians subscribe to—and follow it to its logical conclusions. If it’s true that marriage is a contract that people are free to break as they wish, then it’s not exactly a radical departure to build an assumption into the contract that it might be broken. What these lawmakers propose would only change the government’s default assumption about whether the bond between the two spouses will or won’t be severed—but all of that rests on the assumption that it can be severed.

The Catholic view of marriage is often derided as being punishing and inflexible because of the Church’s stance that divorce is an impossibility; a couple with a valid marriage will always be married in the eyes of the Church, even if they need to live separately from one another. Even many non-Catholic conservatives who advocate for traditional marriage roll their eyes at this view. And without a doubt, it’s one of those hard teachings. Like with the Church’s equally-disliked stance that marriage is an institution that is fundamentally ordered toward the creation of new life, it’s tempting to blow it off, to adopt more modern views that allow a little more leeway. But when we do so, the results are often more far-reaching than we would have predicted. For example, even many conservatives accepted the new view of marriage, facilitated by the widespread acceptance of contraception, that it is primarily a path to the husband and wife’s personal fulfillment, and openness to the possibility of children is optional. But it was exactly this “marriage as lifelong roommates” view that led same-sex couples to decide that they’d like to get in on this lifelong roommates stuff too. And now that we’ve disregarded the traditional understanding of marriage as a sacred covenant, and decided that maybe it’s simply a contract that either party can break at any time, it’s not surprising that we may soon have temporary marriage licenses.

Though so far this idea is only being proposed in Mexico City, with the way things are going in the U.S., it seems that it’s only a matter of time until lawmakers start authoring similar bills here. This should be a wakeup call to defenders of traditional marriage. There are some fundamental disagreements within the traditional marriage movement that are too often overlooked: We agree that marriage should be between one man and one woman, but then gloss over differences of opinion about the role of children and divorce. There’s an understandable reticence to start arguments among people who are on our “side” in this part of the culture war, but a civil discussion needs to be had. Because, as the developments in Mexico City illustrate, we live in a cultural climate where every assumption about marriage is questioned, and it’s more critical than ever to be able to articulate a clear alternative to modern, secular ideas about the institution. Until we agree amongst ourselves about what, exactly, marriage is, we won’t be able to defend it.