Among the new discoveries of the past decade has been a whole series of sixteenth-century Protestant teachings on marriage that have had, and can have, an enduring influence on Western churches and states alike. It is now well understood that the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation was a watershed in the history of Western theology and the law of marriage—a moment and movement that gathered several streams of classical and Catholic legal ideas and institutions, remixed them and revised them in accordance with the new Protestant norms and forms of the day, and then redirected them in the governance and service of the Christian West.
On August 15, 1997, the State of Louisiana put in place the nation’s first modern covenant marriage law. The law creates a two-tiered system of marriage. Couples may choose a contract marriage, with minimal formalities of formation and attendant rights to no-fault divorce. Or couples may choose a covenant marriage, with more stringent formation and dissolution rules.
A century and a half ago, Mormons made national headlines by claiming a First Amendment right to practice polygamy, despite criminal laws against it. In four cases from 1879 to 1890, the United States Supreme Court firmly rejected their claim, and threatened to dissolve the Mormon church if they persisted…These old cases are still the law of the land, and most Mormons renounced polygamy after 1890.
In this Lecture, I would like to revisit the original Protestant case against clerical celibacy and for clerical marriage in its sixteenth century Lutheran Reformation context. I shall then draw out a few implications of the significance of these historical battles for the theology and law of clerical celibacy and marriage today.
Aquinas organized his account of the morality of sexual relations around the good of marriage. The good of marriage is one of the basic human goods to which human choice and action are directed by the first principles of practical reason. Sex acts are immoral when they are “against the good of marriage” and therefore unreasonable (and, inasumuch unreasonable, unnatural).