Get Married, Young Man, Part 2: What is Marriage?

December 20, 2013

This post is part of a series on dating and marriage.

In the previous post, I wrote about the importance of dating intentionally— that is, dating with the clear goal of marriage. But before we go any further, I believe it is important to define what a true, sacramental marriage actually is, especially in light of the rampant confusion about its true nature, the incessant attempts to redefine it, and its overall disintegration within society, even among many Catholics.

Marriage in Crisis

Archuke Imre and Archduchess Kathleen | Spiering PhotographyAll week long, American media has been abuzz with the story of Phil Robertson’s suspension from the wildly popular Duck Dynasty TV show for criticizing homosexuality and calling it a sin. The fact that this is a controversy at all is a sign of the cultural confusion about the nature of sexuality and the marriage covenant.

Here in the U.S., something like 16 states have legalized gay marriage, and many more states plan to follow suit. In the media, traditional marriage is mocked and ridiculed, and “alternative” lifestyles are praised and promoted.

But how did we get to this point? How did society grow to accept a complete redefinition of the martial union, to the point where polyamory (marriages of three or more) and open marriages are now being discussed as legitimate options?

Believe it or not, it began with the acceptance of divorce, as a fascinating article recently pointed out. When society began to accept the idea that marriage was impermanent and dissolvable, a temporary contract of convenience and mutual fulfillment, rather than a permanent uniting of bodies and souls, the groundwork was laid for the further erosion of marriage, the far extremity of which we are at today.

True Marriage

So in light of the current crisis, how are we to understand true marriage? What is it exactly? According to the Church, marriage is defined as a freely-entered-into, sacramental covenant that binds a man and a woman together for a life in a mutually beneficial and procreative union.

To get even more precise, the Catechism defines the marital covenant as follows:

The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.

A marriage is validly sacramental if both parties are baptized and freely give their consent. For example, my wife and were not married in the Catholic church. We married before we converted, but we were both baptized, and we both understood that marriage is a lifelong, procreative union. Therefore, after consulting with priests and a canon lawyer (we wanted to be really sure!), we were assured that our marriage is validly sacramental.

There is so much more that could be said, but to summarize, marriage is the linkage of one man and one woman for life. Through this loving union, life comes forth in the form of children. When lived in its fullness marriage is a beautiful picture of the life-giving love of the Holy Trinity— the first Holy Family.

Sam Guzman


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Reader Interactions


  1. James McPherson says

    I’m confused. Are you blaming homosexuality and/or gay marriage for the high divorce rate? After all, the divorce rate exploded in the 1970s, with the arrival of “no-fault divorce,” long before gay marriage was legal anywhere in the U.S. And divorce rates have dropped — not risen — in the past couple of decades.

    That makes sense, actually, if you’re going to tie in homosexuality (which I wouldn’t, but you did). After all, it seems to me that because homosexuality is more accepted in society, gays may be LESS likely to enter into doomed marriages.

    By the way, in addition to being a homophobic racist, Phil Robertson has said even dumber things about marriage, such as this: “Look, you wait till they get to be about 20 years old, the only picking that’s going to take place is your pocket. You gotta marry these girls when they’re 15 or 16.”,0,4783746.story#ixzz2o3ynM2qb

    • vigilantknight says

      If you are confused Mr. McPherson, it speaks more about your reading comprehension than it does about any effort you may be attempting to discredit the discussion points made herein.

      • James McPherson says

        “it speaks more about your reading comprehension”

        Perhaps so, knight. Is that how a “Catholic gentleman” responds? Still, I’m willing to learn, if I’m missing something: How about if you try to clarify for me the relationship between Duck Dynasty, homosexuality and marriage?

    • The Catholic Gentleman says


      My point was, marriage has disintegrated, and it started with a widespread acceptance of divorce (read the LifeSiteNews article if you want more on that). Once divorce was accepted, marriage was mortally wounded so to speak. Gay marriage is just a symptom of the change in understanding of what marriage is.

      Regarding Phil Robertson, I again point to him as a symptom. I frankly find his language in the article that sparked the controversy unnecessarily crude.

    • DIVORCE says

      “Believe it or not, it began with the acceptance of divorce…

      …When society began to accept the idea that marriage was impermanent and dissolvable, a temporary contract of convenience and mutual fulfillment, rather than a permanent uniting of bodies and souls, the groundwork was laid for the further erosion of marriage, the far extremity of which we are at today”

  2. kph52013 says

    The basis of The Catholic Gentleman’s discussion is that society has “grown to accept a complete redefinition of the marital union..” i.e. same sex marriages. Phil Robertson gave an opinion on it, based on his belief which caused an uproar by those who disagree. It’s as simple as that .

  3. Joe Barrera says

    It’s important to point out in regards to Phil Robertson’s comments that they were unnecessarily crude in regards to gays. In addition I believe his comments about blacks shouldn’t be tolerated by any Catholic. If you feel differently I suggest at the very least reading what he was quoted as saying first.

  4. Stephen says

    Dear Sam,

    Thank you for a consistently thought provoking and positive site. We men would be wise to consider the importance and sacred responsibility inherent in our special contributions to family, community and country. One of the gifts received by the earliest Christians, and passed to us today, was the understanding of the sacredness of the marriage bond and importance of family. Christianity greatly improved the lives of women and children in the Roman era, as just one example.
    I am curious to learn more about sacramental marriage, lifelong commitment of a baptized couple, and the Church’s position with respect to the husband and wife who meet this description, but are not married in the Church. Could you share a reference from a canon lawyer to further define the sacramental validity of a marriage not blessed by a priest? By the way, if this question is not to forward, was it ever suggested that you have your marriage convalidated to assure proper sacramentality?

    Thanks again,

    • The Catholic Gentleman says

      Regarding the Church’s position on baptized couples who are not Catholic, I have no idea about the formal sacramentality of the marriage. I am not well versed enough in canon law to make a judgment. My initial thought is that it would be strange for protestants to be validly participating in a sacrament they don’t even believe in. But I’m not sure.

      As for our marriage, we have tried everything to get our marriage convalidated. We really wanted it to be blessed by the Church. That’s why we asked a good number of priests and consulted a canon lawyer. Every time we asked, however, we were assured that our marriage was perfectly valid and we had nothing to worry about. In the words of one priest, “There is nothing to bless since your marriage is validly sacramental.”

      Again, I don’t know how that works but that is what we were told by a number of good and holy priests, so we are leaving it at that!

  5. jennyroca says

    I wonder how a young man feels when the priest says during the marriage ceremony ” you, man, have to obey/listen/be submissive to your wife”… ?
    While, the same priest says to the bride : “Love your husband…”

    • mandtowens says

      What you’re referring to is an excerpt from the bible, which may or may not be read at a wedding ( chosen by the couple ), not part of the wedding vows. If one wanted to do the mental gymnastics that you are suggesting, by the way, the results would still be descriptive of a loving, christian marriage, because these quotes are both parts of the same coin.-TomO.

  6. Jeff says

    Catholic Gentleman, this is my first comment on your website, this is an old blog, but maybe you will read this comment anyway. In regards to your post that the turning point of the definition of marriage was the acceptance of divorce; I read an interesting article by a homosexual man in a prominent newspaper a few years back; his claim is the definition of marriage changed upon the acceptance of contraception (the Anglicans were the first church to accept it, if I recall correctly). His argument was that before contraception, marriage and sex were intertwined and a couple married for more reasons than just love for example having children and raising a family was a big part of the decision process. After the acceptance of contraception, the concept of marriage changed, he claimed, becoming only about love. Once marriage was about love only, then divorce followed as being acceptable (if one was not in love, and had a horrible married life, why remain married?). The gay argument for marriage then became acceptable, because their argument (at least one of them) was that they were in love and why should they be denied marriage. He claimed that the “fault” of the acceptance of gay marriage falls squarely on the shoulders of the heterosexual community by accepting contraception and allowing marriage to be about love only. Of course, he wasn’t talking about what the Catholic Church teaches, but what is accepted in American society. I found, and still do find, his argument cogent. Any thoughts?

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