Sunday, March 05, 2006

Let No One Put Asunder

Wowzers, kiddies. More experiential proof of the wisdom of keeping church practice out of marriage law came by phone this week.

Here in Massachusetts, groups of rampaging loonies are trying to impose their religious concepts of marriage on the civil contract law. Specifically, they want the 20th Century fundamental Christian ideal of one-man/one-woman marriage to supplant the commonwealth's legal marriage, regardless of gender.

While the flippant can say that if they don't like homosexual marriage, they shouldn't marry a homosexual, they want suddenly to reverse nearly 400 years from the Massachusetts Bay Colony of marriage being a civil contract. They want their religious overlay to be the only acceptable form of marriage.

Yea, this very week of weeks, my college chum called and among other news informed me that he married in the Roman Catholic Church...again. His previous RC marriage of 30 years and 4 daughters was never real, according to a church tribunal.

I was a witness in this process. Not only am I stunned at the theological acrobatics involved, I project to a Massachusetts where the fundies win. In my imagining, not only do they replace civil contract with their Christian-only, DoMA-only marriage, but they don't stop. They forbid divorce and instead force anyone wanting to severe one marriage and join in another to step to the convoluted annulment dance.

To non-Catholics (we need a short word, like goy, to convey this) and even to many Catholics, annulment is as mystical and esoteric as any ritual or construct, say, transmogrification. You put a marriage into the annulment machine, add testimony from the principals and witnesses, grind it up, pay the fees, and most likely out the other end come two people who were never really married, but joint children who are legitimate. Ta da!

The following hits some of the key points related to annulment as I have remotely experienced it. Much of my info comes from Annulment: The Process and its Meaning by Patrick Lagges, JCD. If you want to get serious about it, head to the Code of Canon Law (1983).

The cynic's overview is that the strict no-divorce policy of the RC hierarchy means that you had to wait for your spouse to die to remarry, or live in sin with your boy toy or mistress. That was so unsuitable that church-legal outs had to be inserted in canon to keep folks coming to mass and filling the collection baskets. Clearly the Henry VIII options were not widely practical.

Only 44 years ago, the legal magicians did their stuff for the Second Vatican Council. As the Process document puts it:
Prior to the Council, the Church described marriage as an exchange of rights. Both parties were to bind themselves to the right of their partner to sexual intercourse, to the procreation and education of children, to the permanence and indissolubility of the union, and to fidelity to their spouse. A marriage could be declared null only if something impeded the exchange of rights: if the person excluded the right to sexual acts proper to the procreation of children or the right to permanence or fidelity. Marriages could be declared null if one of the parties entered into the union placing some sort of condition on their consent, was forced into the marriage, or was in error about the person they were marrying. In addition, marriages could be dissolved if they had not been consummated or if one or both parties had not been baptized.

In the Second Vatican Council, however, the Church’s description of marriage changed. Instead of considering marriage as an exchange of rights, it was about as an exchange of persons. In Christian marriage, the parties give and accept each other in a permanent, faithful, fruitful union which is to mirror Christ’s relationship to the Church.
That's the stage setting. Now the waving of hands occurs.

First, in RC law, a marriage is null if , when the couple weds, a key marriage element is missing. These elements can include:
  • Exchanging vows (consent) before properly delegated clerics and witnesses.
  • Freedom from such messy impediments as an existing marriage.
  • And the best out of all, absence of flaws in one or both party's actual consent.
The last one is the biggy. Canon 1095.2, includes the definition of "grave lack of discretion of judgment concerning essential matrimonial rights and duties which are to be mutually given and accepted." This can mean that you are too immature, drunk, or are marrying for some sneaky reason.

From my remote witnessing understanding and from my dealings with Father Kelley, this was the claim of my college chum in seeking to annul his 30-year/4-child marriage. The contention is that she was too immature to understand fully what marriage was about -- at the moment of marriage.

This doesn't mean that she later hit the bars and invited strangers under her skirt. Then again, I married at almost 28 and from my perspective, how many first-time married really, truly know what marriage is and means, even if they had the full priest counseling up front? I'll wager less than 5%.

There you have it. It was never a real marriage for them from the I do/I will exchanges.

The process involves one party or both who want out filling in all those damned personal questionaires about attitudes, sex and behavior. Then they drag us unsuspecting witnesses into the same thing. Because I had dated her and knew them both, I was fresh meat for this. I hadn't seen either of them for two decades and didn't attend the actual wedding, but I was a witness to their states of mind way back then.

It's a short trip from there to It Never Really Happened Lane. As the Process document cites:
The overwhelming majority of cases before Marriage Tribunals in the United States involve some form of defect of consent. Father William Woestinan, O.M.I., of Saint Paul University, Ottawa, Ontario, writing in Studia canonica, noted that this is a worldwide phenomenon. His statistics indicate the percentages of cases decided in 1987 on the grounds of defect of consent: Australia, Great Britain, and the Republic of South Africa, 100 percent; Canada, the Federal Republic of Germany, Ireland, and the Netherlands, 99 percent; France and the United States, 98 percent; Italy, 96 percent; Poland and Spain, 91 percent. These cases deal with a person's ability to understand and choose marriage - an actual understanding of the commitment and what it is they are choosing. If a marriage involves the pledge of two people to commit themselves to each other in an intimate union of life and love, then certain things are necessary. Both parties have to have adequate understanding of themselves before they give themselves to each other. They have to have an adequate understanding of each other so that they know the person they are accepting as their marriage partner. They have to have a basic capacity for intimacy since this forms the essence of marriage. If either of the parties is seriously lacking in one of these areas, the marriage could be declared null.
So, say that you were a relative kid when you married. Whatever you did, thought and felt afterward can be as null as that marriage if, at the ceremony, you weren't perfect in your understanding of and commitment to the RC ideal of marriage.

There's no growing into anything or maturing. The salient point is what were you like at that moment.

I don't want anyone who can buy into that to tell me that they know what is right for Massachusetts marriage law.

There seems no harm to the larger society to add a veneer of religious belief and practice to marriage -- as augmentation, not replacement. Imposing religous belief and practice on civil law is another matter entirely. That belongs neither in the Massachusetts constitution nor its civil laws.

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