Why I Decided To Marry Outside the Church

The process of planning a wedding has made me realize the truth of the statement “the personal is political.” My decision to marry outside of the Catholic Church (or any other church) was not meant as a slight to my religious friends and family, though it will undoubtedly cause unintended distress to many. It was motivated by many factors, and while explaining my reasoning could very well cause further anger or sadness to those who are upset, it will hopefully shed some light on my choice and allow me to dispel speculation.


It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it (Ecclesiastes 5:5). For me to read the Catholic marriage vows would be disingenuous on many levels. First of all, I’m not a practicing Catholic, and to pretend to be (even as a way to make my parents happy) would be incredibly disrespectful. Is it a good idea to start a lifelong commitment with a lie? I recognize that going to mass each week isn’t required in order for a couple to wed in the Church, but I firmly believe it is easier and better for me to be honest with my friends and family now than to pretend (or allow others to assume) that I’m still a practicing Catholic.

* * *


Many of my close friends and family members are gay, and it would go against my personal values to be married in an institution that condemns homosexual relationships. Many of my Catholic friends have found ways to reconcile themselves to the Church’s teachings (saying “hate the sin, love the sinner” etc.) but I do not believe that homosexuality is sinful – and it’s certainly not unnatural. And now that gay marriage is legal in all 50 states, I have hope that marriage is finally evolving toward something resembling an egalitarian institution.


As an educated and privileged person living in 2016, I can afford to 1.) marry whoever I want or 2) marry no one at all – and these are rights that women have not always had that I don’t take for granted. Although marriage has roots in oppressive structures, the recent Supreme Court decision is heartening, and suggests that we are rebuilding the institution into a human right rather than an obligation (financial, societal, religious or otherwise).  The Catholic Church does not share my view that this evolution is progress.


My problems with the Church’s definition of marriage don’t end there. I’m not sure if I want to have children yet, I don’t believe that the husband should be the spiritual head of the household, I don’t view birth control as a sin (far from it), and I don’t think sex should be undertaken solely for the purpose of procreation.  I’m not saying all of this because I want my Catholic friends to view me as a heathen. I’m saying it because I want to make it clear that marrying in the Church would go against many many things that I believe, and would make no one happy – unless I were to intentionally mislead everyone, in which case they would admire me for being someone who I’m not.


Hopefully if you’ve read this far, you understand my decision was not intended as a slight against anyone or a sign of disrespect. If anything, this is my attempt at respecting people of faith by not making a mockery of their sacrament by participating in it falsely.  Nonetheless, I know that many people will be disappointed, but I can’t let that deter me from doing the difficult, honest thing.


It is much harder to be viewed as a good person when you’re “out” as non-religious. It is my goal to live my life and show that it is very possible to be moral, spiritual, and good as a non-religious person. Religion is not always freely chosen, but in a perfect world, it would be – as of now, I see too many people pressured into practicing the faith they were raised in, not because it’s what they believe, but because they fear the consequences of living otherwise. And even in America, the land of religious “freedom,” many people are terrified of practicing their religion because of the judgment of other religious groups. There are real stakes when it comes to disagreeing with the mainstream, but I fiercely believe it’s time to stop stigmatizing and demonizing non-Christian Americans – and I will do everything in my power to lead by example here.


I’m not an atheist and I don’t hate the Church. But it is my belief that religion and spirituality are highly personal and individual matters, and I truly believe that a person’s relationship with God is between that person and God alone. I won’t discuss my views on God here, and I will be respectful of your beliefs without ever trying to change your mind – and I sincerely hope you will respect my beliefs as well, even if you disagree.


Just as I bristle at characterizations of religious people as fanatics, I also hate the generalizations made about non-religious people (usually, stuff along the lines of “combative/argumentative,” “cynical,” “self-satisfied,” “evil,” “without morals,” and “dangerous”).  Ironically, many of the people who will view me as a “heathen” for saying all of this will never realize that we ultimately share the same core values. I hope at the end of the day, the people around me will judge my character by my words and actions and not by my religious affiliation (or lack thereof), because that’s probably our best hope of building a better world.

Published by Elizabeth Clausen

writer/person. I delight in terrible puns.

2 thoughts on “Why I Decided To Marry Outside the Church

  1. I understand fully what you point is, in that you don’t want to vow yourself in to something you doesn’t practice which is for sure respectable! But I just wanted to point out that some of the things you present as fact of Catholic Church teaching are incorrect and are common misconceptions. Since the whole point of the article is of understanding I just wanted to make sure that all sides are represented fairly!

    Here is what the church teaches about homosexuals: “They must be ACCEPTED with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.(C.C.C. # 2358-9)

    And the church in NO way teaches that sex is solely for procreation, far from it.
    “The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude.” Sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure: The Creator himself . . . established that in the [generative] function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit. Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment. They accept what the Creator has intended for them.The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family. (C.C.C. 2362-3)
    Summed up: Union, Pleasure, and openess to life(procreation). So the condemnation of the PRACTICE of homosexuality is no different than the condemnation of the practice of sexual promiscuity, be it in masturbation, being sexual active before marriage, living in common-law relationships, adultery, etc.. Which is also why birth control isn’t supported as all the other things- it takes one of the purposes of its creation by God out of the equation! Instead promotes natural and effective ways of birth control which go along with the female’s cycle, Natural Family Planning (NFP)

    I’m not trying to persuade you or anyone to believe anything, nor saying one side is right or wrong by any means! I just felt called to give a proper explanation to very common misconceptions of the church that were wrongly presented in the article! Just making sure that all opinions drawn from the article are based off fact of teaching& not common presumptions- hope its understand where I’m coming from!

    1. First, thank you for taking the time to read my blog and wrote out a thoughtful, well-researched and informative comment. I should have done a better job articulating the Church’s stance on the issues you mentioned, and will annotate my original post to reference the things you’ve brought up here.

      Secondly, I would like to clarify my stance in light of the points you’ve brought up. Personally, I’m of the view that the Church’s “acceptance” of homosexual individuals is not a complete acceptance, since gay people are deemed sinners unless they embrace celibacy. Homosexuality, which in my view encompasses homosexual sex, is pathologized. Just as in the rest of nature, sexuality in human beings is not limited to opposite sex attraction. The Church will never be able to claim they truly accept homosexuality as long as they deny homosexual individuals the right to engage in consensual sexual activity without condemnation. Classifying homosexual acts as perversions against God and nature is not inclusive, is not scientific, and is not an act of acceptance. Sexuality is an integral part of being human, and suggesting celibacy as a solution – asking someone to deny themselves the opportunity to pursue romantic relationships with the people they love – is asking them to give up a huge dimension of the human experience.

      Similarly, I should have been clearer in the point I wanted to make about “non-procreative” sex. What I should have said is, I disagree with the Church’s stance that all sex must be undertaken at least in part for the purpose of procreation. Again, just so we’re clear – I was aware of the Church’s teaching (and the Catechism’s wording) before I published this post. In my attempt to abridge the Church’s positions, I realize how I may have opened myself up to the criticism that I’m misunderstanding or misrepresenting the Church. But one could argue that saying ‘sex is only for procreation’ and that the ‘generative function cannot be separated from the pleasures of sex’ is not the most meaningful distinction (because they essentially are two different ways of interpreting the same teaching. Either way you slice it, the possibility of conception is a moral imperative in ALL sexual relations.

      It’s hard to try and discuss these topics, because everyone has deeply held beliefs on the subject, and because there’s really no meeting in the middle when it comes to these kinds of fundamental disagreements (unless you count agreeing to disagree, which is what we will have to do). But it’s frustrating to me when practicing Catholics tell me that my issues stem from a misunderstanding of their doctrine, when that’s not the case. It is possible to comprehend the teachings in the Catechism and to disagree. I was a practicing Catholic for the majority of my life and took my religion extremely seriously. But I think it’s frequently easier for people to say, “You’re twisting the Church’s words” or “You just don’t understand” than it is to acknowledge that not every discussion of Church teachings requires direct quotations from the Catechism to be accurate.

      I intentionally argued that the Church considers homosexuality sinful, because in English, "homosexuality" is not defined just by sexual orientation, but also by sexual actions and behavior – but you are operating under the definition that homosexuality is merely an orientation. Consider that – perhaps even at the word level – we are interpreting the language very differently, and not that I am merely ignorant of what the Catholic Church stands for.

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