“I now pronounce you married.” The notary public smiled while the groom kissed the groom. The crowd behind the couple cheered at one of Florida’s first same-sex weddings, filmed by the local news.
That was six, almost seven months ago, and was the result of the expiration of a stay on the US District Court ruling that said same-sex couples can’t get married here. The stay’s lift was a precursor to the Supreme Court’s decision on June 26 to legalize same-sex marriage.
Which is historic, and kind of causing a ruckus.
People are happy. Cry and kiss your partner happy. Jump out of your seat and shout happy. Happy enough to troll the decision’s critics on the Internet. And people are sad. Cry and pray in quiet chapels sad. Shake your head and pound your fists sad. Sad enough to do a lot of stuff that Jesus wouldn’t.
The legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the US has sparked celebration and debate. It has sparked discussion and division. But I’ll tell you what it hasn’t sparked: a marriage crisis.
It won’t, because there already was one.
Marriage is intended to be a sign of Christ’s presence — a witness of Christ’s love for us. It is supposed to be an indissoluble union between a man and a woman, and it is supposed to be open to fertility (See CCC 1601-1658, and Matt. 19:4-9).
It has to be, because of what sex is: a sacred physical sign of the vows that a husband and a wife made on the altar where they were married, designed both for procreation and to be an expression of the unity achieved by the sacrament of matrimony — pleasure is the bonus, not the goal.
Marriage is supposed to be perpetual and exclusive. We are supposed to pick spouses who bring out the best in us, spouses who are committed to our becoming saints. Marriage is designed to result in the destruction of self absorption.
The crisis is that people are married who don’t know that — that people are married in the Church who don’t know what marriage is supposed to be, and that nobody who knows it ever told them.
The result is that what marriage is supposed to be is so seldom modeled that most people have never even encountered it — that there largely has been no discernible difference between how marriage is done by people who are part of the Church and how it’s done by people who aren’t.
Which is a problem.
People are freaking out about the legalization of same-sex marriage, about marriage’s redefinition. And I get it, because we believe that God is the author of marriage. We believe that he doesn’t need an editor. So a lot of Christians — Catholic and Protestant — vilify the Supreme Court for turning marriage into something that it isn’t supposed to be without acknowledging this: We did it first.
We turned marriage into something it isn’t supposed to be when we decided that attraction is the paramount standard for picking a spouse, instead of his or her commitment to your sainthood. We turned marriage into something it isn’t supposed to be when we decided that sexual compatibility is better sought before marriage than achieved over time after the wedding.
We turned marriage into something it isn’t supposed to be when we decided it is better to control fertility than to cooperate with it, when we decided that love is involuntary — as if its start or stop is beyond our control — instead of a choice.
We turn marriage into something it isn’t supposed to be when we, as significant others or spouses, live like it’s OK to use each other as long as our use of each other is mutually advantageous. (That is not OK!) We turn marriage into something it isn’t supposed to be when we know what love, marriage, and sex are but let kids turn into adults who don’t.
Marriage, among people in the Church and among people outside it, widely has looked for my whole life like its purposes are pleasure and companionship, like it’s “only about the affective gratification of consenting adults” — a notion that, earlier this year, the Florida Catholic Bishops warned would be advanced by the legalization of same-sex marriage.
It is a notion we advance, too, when we don’t live like we believe that the Church is right about marriage. Knowing what the Church teaches — that marriage is not merely about the “affective gratification of consenting adults” — is important.
But believing what the Church teaches changes everything.
It determines how and why and who we date and whether we date at all. It requires discernment and prudence and fortitude of us where the culture that surrounds us says there doesn’t need to be.
It means that preparedness for marriage is more important to us than preparedness for a wedding night and that what we as a married couple could contribute to the world is more important to us than how warm or fuzzy our feelings were the day we met.
It means that exemplifying what the Church teaches is more important to us than pouting about the Supreme Court’s decision. It means acknowledging that living what we believe changes the world and fighting with the people who don’t believe it… doesn’t.
So it is time to decide whether we truly believe that the Church is right about marriage.
And if we do, it is time to prove it by living like we do — and to date, discern, marry, and teach like it’s true.