Separating Civil and Sacramental Marriage–Part 1

It’s always curious to me when similar arguments appear in the writings of people whose views on a topic are opposed.   I’ve pointed this out in two other instances, and you can read about them here and here.

The latest example comes from two sides in the marriage equality debate. Both writers are Catholic priests–one supports and the other opposes marriage equality.  Yet they agree on the fact that the institution of secular marriage and sacramental marriage need to be separated.  Today’s post will examine the essay from the priest supporting marriage equality, and tomorrow’s post will examine the essay from the one who opposes it.

Father Frank Brennan, SJ

Father Frank Brennan, SJ

Fr. Frank Brennan, SJ, a professor of law at Australian Catholic University, in an essay on entitled “It’s time to recognise secular same sex marriage,” wrote about his nation’s marriage equality debate.  Over a year ago, he had written in support of legalizing civil unions, but he has now changed his mind to support marriage rights.  In his current essay, he suggested:

“It is high time to draw a distinction between a marriage recognised by civil law and a sacramental marriage. In deciding whether to expand civil marriage to the union of two persons of the same gender, legislators should have regard not just for the wellbeing of same sex couples and the children already part of their family units, but also for the wellbeing of all future children who may be affected, as well as the common good of society in setting appropriate contours for legally recognised relationships.”

Brennan has some exceptions to his support for same-sex marriage:

“Same sex couples wanting to create their own children may in the forseeable future be able to use only their own genetic material, precluding the possibility that such children will have a biological father and a biological mother. Whether or not we legislate for same sex marriage, we should restrict artificial reproduction of children such that they will have a biological father and a biological mother, and hopefully able to be known by them.

“Legislators making laws regarding adoption ought be able to demand that adoption agencies continue to consider the best interests of the child. In the case of a child unrelated to any prospective adopting couple, the adoption agency ought be able to have regard to the desirability of a child being brought up in a family with an adult male and an adult female.

“If these concerns were met or at least weighed in the balance against the claims of children already in same sex families deserving respect and nurture by the state and society, society could properly move to recognition of civil unions or same sex marriage if and when the overwhelming majority of the population (including those who are presently married civilly) supported such change.”

His conclusion in support of marriage equality, however, is very strong:

“It would be just and a service to the common good for the State to give some recognition and support to committed, faithful, long-term relationships between gay couples deserving dignity, being able to love and support each other in sickness and in health, until death they do part.”

He notes, too, that Pope Francis has taken a different approach to gay and lesbian couples than Pope Benedict XVI did.  Pope Francis, while archbishop in Argentina, supported civil unions.  Brennan notes his agreement with the new pontiff, but goes a little further:

“I am with Francis on civil unions but, unlike him, I now accept that we can probably no longer draw a line between civil unions and same sex marriage.”

Check out tomorrow’s blog post to see how a priest who opposes marriage equality also seeks to separate secular marriage from sacramental marriage.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

12 replies
  1. Joseph Gentilini
    Joseph Gentilini says:

    I also agree with this. There should be an opportunity for gay couples to marry civilly, with all of the financial and other benefits that heterosexual couples enjoy. In my mind this would still be a sacrament, but I won’t quibble about that here. If heterosexual couples want their marriage blessed by the church, then this would follow a civil union. If the church wants to refuse to bless a gay couples’ union, it is its right, even if I would believe they are being discriminatory.

  2. Friends
    Friends says:

    Joseph has got it exactly right. It’s my understanding that even Pope Francis himself has said that CIVIL MARRIAGE, although not formal sacramental marriage, should be made available to same-sex couples. So let’s hope Pope Francis clues Bishop Paprocki to CHILL IT with homophobic remarks.

  3. RJ Abada OFM
    RJ Abada OFM says:

    thanks for this. when i first read Fr. Brennan’s view, the impression I got was that he was not so much a supporter of gay rights. this article has helped paint a more pro gay picture of his comments. plus i am happy that his comments also corroborate that Pope Francis did support civil unions for gays when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

  4. Michael Knaapen
    Michael Knaapen says:

    Sadly, Fr. Brennan also makes a number of false assertions – such as, it is in a child’s best interest to be raised in the home of a man and woman. There is no evidence whatever that suggests that an opposite-sex two-parent home is better than a same-sex two-parent home. None. The only evidence that made that allegation is called the Regnerus Study, and it has been completely discredited. Adoption agencies should rely on the FACTS when considering the suitability of homes for children, not religion-based bigotry.

  5. Lydia Lombardo
    Lydia Lombardo says:

    It saddens me to hear that gay couples who love each other should be denied all the rights, civilly and sacramentally, that I enjoyed for 50 years with my husband. Somehow it doesn’t seem right that because we were heterosexual, we could have the privilege and honor to be committed to each other, but that couples who love with the same intensiy we did, are denied this joy because of their gender. It is also sad that the decisions of the church are made by celibate priests who cannot possibly know that sex in a marriage is much more than the actual carnal experience.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Bondings 2.0: “Separating Civil and Sacramental Marriage–Part 1“ […]

  2. […] Fr. Frank Brennan, SJ, an Australian law professor, argued a progressive position that separating civil and sacramental marriages would be a way to make room for lesbian and gay couples to marry legally.   He stated: […]

  3. […]  Back in July 2013,  Bondings 2.0 carried two connected posts exploring the debate.  The first was by Jesuit law professor, Fr. Frank Brennan, who advocated for such a separation as a way to allow lesbian and gay couples to […]

  4. […] Yesterday, I noted that I had recently read two opposing essays on marriage equality, both written by priests.  Though they came to different conclusions, both of them based a good deal of their argument on the idea that we have reached the point where civil and sacramental marriage need to be considered as separate institutions.   Yesterday, we looked at the essay supporting marriage equality, written by an Australian Jesuit law professor.  Today, we will examine the essay of Msgr. Charles Pope,  pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Parish, Washington, DC. […]

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