The Liberation of Lifelong Love: Church Teaching on Marriage

Marriage is a universal human institution, defined—until recently—as the preferred context for both sexual activity and child-rearing. Until the last forty years, every society understood that some contexts for sex and childbearing were preferable to others.

Opposition to this traditional view of marriage has increased in recent times. We are told that society should not “privilege” one form of relationship or family over any others. But “privileging” is, by definition, the exact point of the marital institution: the very existence of the institution proclaims that some relationships are more socially significant, more socially productive, and more socially desirable than others. Since the Catholic Church offers one of the richest and most robust teachings about marriage, the Church has faced particularly strong criticism for her teachings.

In the current debate between the traditional view that marriage is Something, and the modern view that marriage is Whatever We Say It Is, the Catholic Church holds firmly to the view that marriage is something in particular.

The Church teaches that marriage is the lifelong, sexually exclusive, sacramental union of one man and one woman, established by the consent of the spouses, characterized by love and a common life, and ordered to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children.

In some cases, the Church teaches that the separation of spouses may be legitimate, and even civil divorce can be tolerated. But remarriage (without annulment) is always forbidden. According to Catholic teaching, sexual activity outside of marriage is always wrong. This includes both adultery (sexual relations between a married person and someone other than the spouse) and fornication (sexual relations between unmarried persons). Obviously, then, the Church objects to nonmarital cohabitation, and out-of-wedlock childbearing.

These, it is safe to say, constitute the “hard teachings” of the Catholic Church regarding marriage. Apart from her teaching on contraception, abortion, and possibly the all-male priesthood, no other teaching has caused the Church so much bad publicity and ill-feeling.

Over the past forty years, many women have become convinced that marriage is not in their best interest. Some women believe marriage is unnecessary. Others think that it is or has been harmful to them. The views of women like these, orchestrated, I will argue, by socialist and other secular feminists, have been instrumental to weakening the institution of marriage.

But the weakening of this foundational institution has also harmed women in some distinctive ways. Without a robust culture of marriage, women have been left with the burden of caring for children with far less support from men than would have been conceivable in prior ages.

Married women are happier, healthier, more sexually satisfied, and more financially secure than their unmarried, cohabiting, and divorced counterparts.

Moreover, the alternatives to marriage have been particularly harmful to children, quite apart from the loss of material support from their fathers. Since women on the whole care deeply about the welfare of their children, the negative outcomes to children caused by the decline of marriage must also be counted among the harmful effects on women.

[Excerpted from Dr. Morse's contribution to the book Women, Sex & the Church: A Case for Catholic Teaching.]

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  • Cooky642

    Some women believe marriage is unnecessary. Others think that it is or has been harmful to them. The views of women like these, orchestrated, I will argue, by socialist and other secular feminists, have been instrumental to weakening the institution of marriage.

    Not necessarily. Both of my daughters believe marriage is unnecessary and harmful from bad marriages. The men (using the term loosely) they married caused their beliefs, not socialists or secular feminists. I can’t change their minds because of their experience. It’s disturbing and frustrating.

  • http://arkanabar.blogspot.com Arkanabar Ilarsadin

    And it’s the sexual revolution which has made men into such craptacular worms, and it’s the Pill that ignited the sexual revolution.

    It’s never any fun to be told how you’ve shot yourself in the foot, as so very many women have in the last 50+ years.

  • fatherjo

    Thank you, Dr. Morse, for a wonderful article.

  • Narwen

    >Not necessarily. Both of my daughters believe marriage is unnecessary and >harmful from bad marriages. The men (using the term loosely) they married caused >their beliefs, not socialists or secular feminists.

    Amen, sister !

    It can also come from watching your surroundings. If you see older female relatives, who left their careers behind to raise kids, dumped for pretty young things, the natural reaction to people who suggest a SAHM lifestyle is going to be “You’re kidding, right ? ”

    BTW, I do know that more women than than men file for divorce, but it’s quite probable that in a lot of those cases it’s the man who disengaged first. When a guy moves out and starts living with his girlfriend, he’s got what he wants. Why should he bother starting the paperwork until he has to ?

  • bronwyn

    “You keep your eyes wide open before marriage and half shut after.” – Benjamin Franklin
    I am married but chose to ignore some signs because “love is blind”. I have had to ignore and forgive many things that my husband has committed. I continue to pray for him.
    Too many times there are signs that we do not truly see or choose to ignore. I usually tell young women in love that if he doesn’t treat you well before marriage it usually doesn’t improve later. Slowly he may cross the line, he may swear at you, give you the silent treatment, call you stupid, etc. And if that’s Before marriage then what’s to come?
    One family friend mentioned that her boyfriend at the end of every date would go home and retell everything back to his mother, and this was a grown man! I mentioned to her that if he did this before marriage he would most likely continue to do so afterwards. She eventually broke off the relationship and soon met a wonderful man and they are now married.

  • elkabrikir

    I, too, take exception with Dr Morse on this issue “Some women believe marriage is unnecessary. Others think that it is or has been harmful to them. The views of women like these, orchestrated, I will argue, by socialist and other secular feminists, have been instrumental to weakening the institution of marriage.”

    From personal experience, not necesarily from within my own marriage, however, I have observed that spouses can suffer emensely at the hands of their spouse in marriage. God’s grace cannot bring forgiveness and healing into the relationship when spouses fail to live up to their sacramental vows and gifts. At that point women believe marriage is unnecessary and harmful. Empyting marriage of the sacrament/cross, has killed marriage.

    This society has tried to sell people the bag of beans that claims one can find “Heaven on Earth” somewhere, if you follow your heart and passions. Now THAT is the lie. There is no true happiness here on earth apart from living God’s will, which entails suffering most likely.

    No man can ever “make” a woman happy, no man can make a man happy, no woman can make a man happy, and no woman can make a woman happy. Only God can fill the longing for love within us.

    As soon as people understand this, the more fulfilled they’ll be in their marriages. In even the best marriages, both spouses are weak and fallen….so, there never was a Prince in Shining Armour or a Princess with Golden Hair. But, we can live happily ever after bearing our marital crosses with Christ.

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