Whose marriage counts?

Have I said this already? I find it so offensive when those opposed to same-sex marriage refer to it as “same-sex so-called marriage,” or simply use quotation marks as in, “same-sex ‘marriage.'” Obviously, they want to make it clear that they don’t believe marriage can exist between two people of the same sex. But it’s just so dismissive: “Hm, so you and your same-sex partner want to get ‘married.'” No, same-sex couples don’t want to get “married.” They want to get married. They want an actual marriage.

I find it particularly galling when this use of language comes from people speaking as representatives (in whatever capacity, official or unofficial) of Catholicism. Catholicism goes out of its way to differentiate between marriages it sees as valid vs. those it sees as not valid. For example: Catholic marries a Catholic in a Catholic church = legit. Catholic marries a non-Catholic in a Catholic church = legit. Two non-Catholics marry outside of the Catholic Church = legit. When I say these are legit, I mean that the Catholic Church presumes that they are valid and binding. On the other hand: marriages in which either party is divorced and the ex-spouse is still alive, regardless of whether or not either party is Catholic = not legit. Also, if a Catholic marries anyone, Catholic or not, outside of the church, that’s not legit. There are lots and lots of non-legit (according to Catholicism) marriages out there. In the eyes of the Church, these marriages do not exist. Divorce does not exist, so the divorced and remarried person is actually still married to his or her first spouse, and subsequent marriages do not exist. Divorced people may be able to obtain a declaration of nullity, which declares that the former marriages never actually existed to begin with.

But divorce and remarriage are legal in the United States. The people involved in these non-legitimate-to-Catholicism marriages consider themselves married. Not “married”; just married. Do representatives of Catholicism go around referring to divorced-and-remarried people’s marriages as “so-called marriages”? Do they refer to “so-and-so’s ‘wife'”? No (at least not in any capacity where others can hear). That would be supremely assholish. In addition, Catholics are quick to say that the Church does not consider the children born of these non-legit marriages to be bastards. Those children are still legitimate, even the ones born to parents who marriages were later declared null.

Point being, Catholicism already has a mechanism for deciding whose marriage is legitimate and whose isn’t, or whose marriage exists and whose doesn’t. But Catholicism doesn’t find it necessary to declare this with every passing reference. Catholicism is confident enough in its teachings on marriage not to have to use quotation marks and qualifiers. And maybe this is giving the Church too much credit, but I like to think that Catholicism is sensitive enough to divorced and remarried people to realize that addressing someone as a “so-called” husband or wife is unnecessarily hurtful, off-putting, and insulting. Everyone already knows the Church doesn’t recognize these marriages. And everyone already knows that if and when same-sex marriage becomes a legal reality, the Church won’t recognize those marriages, either.

If you don’t believe marriages can exist between people of the same sex, ok. If your state is the next one to allow same-sex marriage, you can continue to believe that those marriages don’t really exist, just as you may believe that your neighbor’s 30-year marriage to his second wife doesn’t exist. But don’t use language to dismiss and belittle those who seek legal recognition of their relationships.

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