Civil vs. Church Marriage

216700_4012172242080_48943566_nLet us all remember there is a difference. Regarding civil vs. church recognized marriage, there is a difference between the two. A vast difference in which the mainstream media has not taken the time to explain sufficiently.

I am a practicing Catholic. In speaking to a priest a few weeks ago, the issue of same sex marriage and the implications of the SCOTUS case Obergefell v. Hodges, decided today, but at the time of our conversation was pending, arose. This priest explained to me the legal difference between civil and church marriage and gave me his prediction of what the Catholic Church may, and probably will, do in response if SCOTUS came back in the majority, i.e., in favor of Mr. Obergefell, which they did today.

As of today, a Catholic priest acts as both the agent of the state and a representative of the church when performing a marriage ceremony. Thus, he signs off as a civil agent (representative of the state) and a church representative. This is not mandatory. It is however, something priests have done for decades now as same-sex marriage has only come to the forefront in the past few years.

The Catholic Church can, and in all likelihood will, cease to allow the priests within the church to act as civil agents, or representatives of the state, when conducting marriage. If the bishops and Pope Francis do indeed invoke this right, a civil ceremony and church ceremony will become two separate acts.

Thus, a heterosexual couple who desires to marry would be married in front of a civil official (for example, a judge) and then pursue a church marriage, sanctioned and supported by the Catholic Church. A homosexual couple who desires to get married can now proceed with a civil marriage, but the church is under no obligation to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony that is sanctioned by the Catholic Church.

Therefore, by ceasing to act as both an agent of the state and the church, a Catholic priest is under no obligation to perform a same-sex marriage. Actually, legally, the Catholic Church is under no obligation to perform a heterosexual wedding. If a priest, after counseling a couple (standard procedure in the Catholic Church), does not think the couple is marrying for the right reason, or not compatible, a priest does not have to perform a heterosexual wedding.

All this boils down to a point in which I have not seen made in the numerous articles and opinion pieces written today after the announcement of the decision of Obergefell v. Hodges. After today’s SCOTUS ruling, states cannot deny homosexual couples a civil ceremony of marriage. The state must allow for such weddings, but the Catholic Church does not if the priest forfeits his license which allows him to act as an agent of the state. Do not expect gay weddings in the Catholic Church as SCOTUS has no jurisdiction over the bishops throughout the world and Pope Francis.

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