Marriage after Election 2012: A Response to Weigel

by Maggie Gallagher

Over at First Things, George Weigel argues that the Catholic Church should refuse to cooperate with the government in states where marriage has been redefined, by refusing to act as agents of the state in signing marriage certificates.

I don’t see why priests signing or refusing to sign the marriage certificate for the state is such a great witness. Some will read as a sign of retreat and withdrawal by the Church, and many people won’t even notice.

Here’s the more important question Weigel is not addressing: If a priest cannot in good conscience cooperate with the state in creating a marriage, can a good Catholic?

If he supports an actual withdrawal of Catholics from the public and civil institution of marriage, it’s not a gesture; it’s a huge endeavor that would require the creation of alternative means of enforcing the civil aspects of the marriage commitment (or leaving women and children unprotected).

Abandoning that legal framework could cost us a lot of money potentially, too: Our widows would not get the inheritance exemption, it would take additional money to secure legal parenthood, etc.

We would see quickly what gay people are complaining about in being denied the civil benefits of marriage, but in this case, the people being denied these benefits would be the single most vulnerable people in marriage and the ones whom civil marriage was originally designed to protect: women with large families and their children.

If the Church were to say “our priests can’t participate in civil marriage but you as a good Catholic can go do it if you want,” I don’t understand what the witness is.

It’s no great sacrifice for the priest not to sign a marriage contract; but it is a potentially great sacrifice for the Catholic family. If it’s no sacrifice what is the witness? 

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