July 3, 2010

What is Marriage?

The meaning of marriage is both timely and timeless. Marriage is the lifelong, exclusive union of one man and one woman . . . the font of love, life, and communion . . . the natural foundation of the family and society. Marriage is a fundamental institution, but as we know, various challenges and questions are raised today about the meaning of marriage. The most pointed of these questions arises in the context of the contemporary proposal to redefine marriage to include two persons of the same sex. This proposal involves many issues which deserve careful attention. Consideration of the inviolable dignity of every human person, including persons who experience same-sex attraction, is essential when approaching this topic. The topic can indeed be emotional and difficult, but at the heart is a radical question about the most basic and original of all institutions.

The video “Made for Each Other” focuses on the topic of sexual difference and the complementarity of man and woman. Why start here? At first sight, this topic might appear to miss the core issues and questions at stake. For example, you might hear that everyone knows about sexual difference already and that the real concern is about rights, equality, and non-discrimination. For sure, this concern about rights, equality, and non-discrimination involves important principles and receives most of the attention today. However, popular misconceptions regarding rights, equality, and non-discrimination easily shift the attention from the central question at stake, which is marriage.

It is necessary to begin at the proper starting point. Without a proper understanding of the meaning of marriage, the topic of rights, equality, and non-discrimination cannot be dealt with adequately. In fact, the topic will remain at a superficial level and be misconstrued. Only when marriage is understood can its preservation be grasped as fundamental for the protection of basic human rights and the common good. Similar to Jesus’ invitation to return to “the beginning” (Mt 19:4; Mk 10:6), this first video and materials do the same.

The crucial starting point is sexual difference. While sexual difference alone doesn’t say everything there is to say about marriage, it’s indispensable for understanding marriage’s meaning. In fact, sexual difference provides the essential foundation for recognizing why marriage is exclusive to one man and one woman. The difference is the difference.

As Pope John Paul II taught, marriage is grounded in creation itself, willed by God in the very act of creation. Jesus himself showed us this when, in his teaching on marriage, he went back to the beginning, back to Genesis, back to the very creation of the human person (see Mt 19:4-6 and Mk 10:6-7).12 Marriage is not “created” by a religious institution or human government. Religion and government confirm what was already present from the beginning: marriage based on the sexual difference between man and woman. Marriage is grounded in human nature as created by God. As such, the call to marriage depends upon the sexual difference between a man and a woman.

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