The Meaning of Marriage & Sexual Difference
Marriage: What’s a good starting point?
To understand what marriage is, the best place to start is with the human person. After all, marriage is a unique relationship between two specific persons, one man and one woman. We must ask, “What does it mean to be a human person, as a man or as a woman?” First, men and women are created in the image of God (see Gen 1:27). This means that they have great dignity and worth. Also, since “God is love,” (1 Jn 4:8) each person – created in God’s image - finds his or her fulfillment by loving others. Second, men and women are body-persons. The body – male or female – is an essential part of being human. Gender is not an afterthought or a mere social construct. The body shapes what it means to love as a human person. To sum up, when we think about marriage, we must think about who the human person is – created with great dignity, and called to love as a body-person, male or female.
Where does marriage come from?
"God himself is the author of marriage” (GS, no. 48). When God created human persons in his own image, as male and female, he placed in their hearts the desire, and the task, to love– to give themselves totally to another person. Marriage is one of two ways someone can make a total self-gift (the other is virginity, devoting oneself entirely to God) (see FC, no. 11). Marriage is not something thought up by human society or by any religion – rather, it springs from who the human person is, as male and female, and society and religion affirm and reinforce it. The truth of marriage is therefore accessible to everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof. Both faith and reason speak to the true meaning of marriage.
What is marriage?
Marriage is the lifelong partnership of mutual and exclusive fidelity between a man and a woman ordered by its very nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children (see CCC, no. 1601; CIC, can. 1055.1; GS, no. 48). The bond of marriage is indissoluble – that is, it lasts “until death do us part.” At the heart of married love is the total gift of self that husband and wife freely offer to each other. Because of their sexual difference, husband and wife can truly become “one flesh” and can give to each other “the reality of children, who are a living reflection of their love” (FC, no. 14). Marriage between a baptized man and a baptized woman is a sacrament. This means that the bond between husband and wife is a visible sign of the sacrificial love of Christ for his Church. As a sacrament, marriage gives spouses the grace they need to love each other generously, in imitation of Christ.
Why can’t marriage be “redefined” to include two men or two women?
The word “marriage” isn't simply a label that can be attached to different types of relationships. Instead, “marriage” reflects a deep reality – the reality of the unique, fruitful, lifelong union that is only possible between a man and a woman. Just as oxygen and hydrogen are essential to water, sexual difference is essential to marriage. The attempt to “redefine” marriage to include two persons of the same sex denies the reality of what marriage is. It is as impossible as trying to “redefine” water to include oxygen and nitrogen.
What is sexual difference?
Sexual difference is the difference of man to woman and woman to man. It affects a person at every level of his or her existence: genetically, biologically, emotionally, psychologically, and socially. Sexual difference is an irreducible difference. It is unlike any other difference we experience, because it – and only it – allows for the total personal union between husband and wife that is at the heart of marriage. The difference between men and women is for the sake of their union with each other. It is what makes spousal union possible.
Isn't marriage just about love and commitment between two people?
Of course love and commitment are important for marriage – as they are for many relationships. But marriage is unique because the commitment it calls for is better described as communion, where “the two become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Only a man and a woman in marriage can become a “one flesh” communion. The unity of husband and wife is so intimate that from it can come a “third,” the child – a new life to be welcomed and raised in love. No other relationship, no matter how loving or committed, can have this unique form of commitment – communion – that exists in marriage, between a husband and a wife.
Where can I learn more about marriage?
Please visit www.marriageuniqueforareason.org for videos and companion guides on the promotion and protection of marriage. For more information on strengthening marriage, visit www.foryourmarriage.org