Saturday, August 11, 2012

A House has an inside and an outside and a neighborhood

For the purpose of being well-understood, I was raised (though no-one ever mentioned it) not under the declaration that all men inherit the right to "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness", but rather in a realm which proclaimed "peace, order, and good government". Whether either of us now enjoys any of these goods is a question best left to future historians, perhaps, but never mind.

It would seem there is room for disagreement on the prudence of civil law recognizing the unique and preeminently worthy character of the free and total union of Man and Woman made concrete in the free and total union of one man and one woman coenduring with their common Earthly survival.

I recently highlighted differing opinions on this matter from two good and thoughtful Catholic fathers with whom I respectfully disagree.1 The one asserts that "the state [has to] define marriage and know who is married in order to answer two questions: who owns what and whose kids are whose;" the other affirms his belief "that [one] should not be prohibited from pursuing a legal union with whomever [he?] like, according to the beliefs of another religion or in the eyes of government."

The extent to which I agree with the former opinion is exactly circumscribed by the ancient (and lately vanquished, by engineering) presumption of paternity; this is the legal principle that, unless proved otherwise beyond reasonable doubt, a child's father is her mother's husband --- and hence it is the duty of the mother's husband to love, protect, maintain, and rear the child until she attain majority. This presumption was soundly grounded in the simple fact that it was nearly always correct; exceptions, howsoever notorious, were quite exceptional. (other presumptions... are more debatable, though it would seem the cad was asking for it.)

The extent to which I agree with the latter opinion is exactly circumscribed by the natural power and freedom of men to bind themselves; two men can of course, freely consent to live and hold property in common, to be mutually subservient, to assume formal duties of care each to the other's children, etc., and they have the natural power to give eachother promises to that effect, to cast these promises in solemn forms and personally subscribe to them, as with a vow or contract, to invoke the witness or guidance or help of whatever third party --- whether human or divine or angelic or diabolical or fictitious. Whether they should do these things, or enjoy a right to these things is variously less clear to patently false, depending on the particulars. The extent to which civil authority can or ought to uphold or prevent such contracts is, of course, a prudential matter, and beyond my will to generalize.

I might explain my disputations with each separately, but it seems simpler to express what I positively think about this; the rest will follow by differentiation.

Marriage is --- and Marriages are --- a public matter

More fully, people generally have a right to know who (among those they know) is married, and to whom. In evidence, consider a single coffee-shop patron who witnesses some angelic beauty purchasing and then enjoying a mug of warm cocoa, and is overwhelmed by a chivalrous inspiration to ensure she is henceforth assured of whatever cocoa she requires for the rest of her life. Before he may licitly assent with the will to this inspiration, he must ascertain whether in offering life-long cocoa he is not usurping some other man's blessed duty. More prosaically, he must discover whether she is married. And he has a right to know the truth of the matter; that is, it is good to know the truth, and the particular truth pertains to him in discerning his unfolding vocation.2

Marriages are not like other contracts

To be sure, marriage has a contractual element, being effected by the mutual consent in specific things of a man and a woman. But I really do believe that word effected is necessary: that the exchange of consent, the contraction, is an efficient cause of the marriage. It is not the material cause nor the formal cause nor the final cause of marriage. The marriage has reality even beyond the potential death in either spouse of their will to the original consent, which is quickly discovered when either party then tries to leave. A Christian marriage is something even more than that, knitting the two even more fully as one in a manner I shan't attempt to express.

Marriages are of persons

This is just plain obvious; to elaborate at all, I must fall into negatives again, lacking an eloquent positive. Because it is persons that marry, a marriage is not about property; put another way, husband and wife share a house and their food and so forth, and all that she has in a real sense is his, and all he has is hers --- but this doesn't mean he'd fit in, or look good wearing, her clothes. In overwhelmingly many cases the very idea should never occur to him. Even were he a sunburned scarlet oat farmer and she the very lily of the valey, it would be only the stupidest of divorce settlements that put his business wardrobe in her keeping.

Civil Law must acknowledge What Is

I do not mean, of course, that Civil Law should, or even can, propose to our belief even things that are on its own authority. No. The convergence of diminishing $l$-adic series is not a Statute and no King can make it one. Neither should a fiat-currency state, on the basis that tithing is virtuous, resolve to issue the equivalent of 10% GDP to all intitutes of religion, divided in proportion to the total gross income of their adherents/devotees, any more than Peter the liar got hit by a bus. Neither is it the office of the state to hold shotgun weddings when... well, you know when they have shotgun weddings. No, it is the duty of civil authority to, on the basis of what is, do what is prudent, within its scope, for all involved. In the instance that shotgun weddings would be thought necessary, it is the duty of the state to uphold the natural father's natural duty to his children. (oh dear, that natty word does get wearisome, after a while)

In particular, in marrying, or in living as if married, two people undertake a permanent mutual duty of special care. In so far as it bears on their neighbours, as we have seen it does (and against the sadder event that prudence demands a separation of some man from his wife) civil authority not only may know who is married to whom, but must acknowledge those marriages. Never mind that marriage-in-the-abstract is a worthy institution; tea-time at four is a worthy institution, but a particular marriage is a real thing and to the enrichment of all. If the state has no business in recognizing marriages, how will the Lord Mayor know where to send letters of congratulations?

So much for me

Well, I hope, at least, that you have enjoyed reading my thoughts on the matter, as matter for sniggering at or (I flatter myself) as helping you better-form your contradicting opinions. I must acknowledge with sorrow how my native realm pretends to recognize as "marriages" various contracts that aren't; on the other hand, they didn't consult me on the matter at all. I don't think they consulted anyone, really... and, I mean, Really! So much for "good government".

My prayer for God's blessings on you and your families is here assured; fare well!

viator quidam

1) In fairness, I've never been married, so they certainly possess some experience on which I can only glean the insight of an outsider. On the other hand, Mum is married, Dad is married, Grandma was...

2) Alright, it is sufficient in right for to prevent him that she hear and decline the chocolate offer; but she must not pretend to him that she is single and repulsed if in fact she is married and tempted. Basta.


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