Same-sex marriage

Can it be a sacrament?

There is no doubt that the industrialized West is going through a profound change in the way it regards homosexuality. The Supreme Court’s recent decision that antisodomy laws violate a constitutional right to privacy caused a great stir-not least because it invoked the same shaky constitutional right to privacy the Court used in Roe v. Wade; Justice O’Connor’s separate opinion, arriving at the same conclusion on equal-protection grounds, was wiser. Canada’s decision to legalize gay marriage has come under fire from the Canadian Catholic bishops, and the Vatican says that Catholic politicians are bound to vote against all such proposals. A look at the history of marriage as an institution and as a sacrament (there is some overlap, but far from a complete congruence) might help to clarify some things.

Every society has made some effort to regulate the ways in which families unite, property is divided, children are protected, and the usually unequal rights of wives and husbands are shored up. This is the contractual side of marriage, and until recently the romantic part, involving the passions and affections which dominate the way we think of marriage in our society, was a lucky dividend.

In the early Christian church there was no marriage ceremony or special blessing. The marriage of Christians was considered sacramental, in the sense that this relationship between a married Christian man and woman...

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About the Author

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions.