The mind naturally distinguishes between the true and the false, recognizing the difference between the real and some substitute or imitation for the authentic, between the true and the ersatz, the natural and the artificial. So many errors of judgment and foolish and immoral decisions begin by the failure to recognize these logical, inherent distinctions that form the structure of reality. For example, subtle but vital distinctions separate appearance from reality: love from lust, marriage from cohabitation, contraception from natural family planning, annulment from divorce, and a traditional family from an artificial social construct that can assume a plurality of forms. While seeming similar and showing slight differences, the real thing and the imitation have profound metaphysical dissimilarities and share little in common besides some superficial resemblance.
While sacramental marriage commits couples to vows of fidelity, recognizes indissoluble unions, and practices generosity in the self-giving love that welcomes children as blessings, cohabitation does not pledge promises of faithfulness, a lifetime of commitment for better or for worse, an openness to children, or an obedience to God’s commandments. When unwed couples live together in the intimacy of conjugal love as if married and establishing a home, the relationship is tentative and transitory with no defined obligations to uphold or solemn promises to honor in the course of a lifetime. The real thing offers permanence, the blessing of God, a sense of security and stability to endure the vicissitudes of life, and a source of lifelong joy. Marriage has a foundation like the strength of a rock, but cohabitation has no moral structure on which to build. Thus the real thing passes the test of time; the imitation is ephemeral. The real thing is founded on a timeless truth, but the imitation is based on the lie that marriage and cohabitation are one and the same thing with no existential differences.
While contraception and natural family planning appear to have a common goal of spacing children or preventing conception, this minor resemblance obscures the crucial differences. Contraception violates Mother’s laws that govern fertility by forcefully rendering asunder what Nature and God have intended to be inseparable—the procreative and unitive aspects of marital love. Contraception carries with it health risks such as cancer-causing pills, abortifacients that prevent implantation, abnormal alterations of a woman’s body’s equilibrium, serious side effects such as infertility, and emotional changes in temperament. Natural family-planning, on the other hand, poses no dangers to health, does not interfere with nature’s fertile and infertile cycles, cooperates with Nature’s plan and God’s design rather than frustrates Nature’s purposes with chemicals and barriers. Natural family planning relies on the human virtues of self-denial, temperance, and abstinence whereas contraception depends on technology and pharmaceutical drugs and lacks the sensitive personal dimension of the communion of love. Contraception uses and abuses the body in unnatural ways never intended or designed by Nature or God whereas natural family planning respects the integrity of the body and does not deliberately violate its purpose of fertility. The real thing, then, speaks the truth and does not lie with the body by pretending to give life-giving love while purposely denying it.
Marriage and family too have a fixed, objective, real nature that imitations can simulate, but no substitutes for the real thing carry any equivalence, conviction, or moral authority despite Supreme Court decisions or laws that legalize same-sex marriages or ignore the emotional or psychological health of children. The institution of marriage does not “evolve,” progress, or change according to the ideological or political climate of the age. Despite some aberrations or exceptions like polygamy, all cultures and societies throughout the ages have understood marriage according to its self-evident meaning—the union of one man and one woman—that Sacred Scripture affirms beyond a reasonable doubt as authoritative divine law: “Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” God’s injunction, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” makes sense only in the light of the marital union of man and woman, no other substitute versions of marriage. The real thing respects the language of the body, the natural purpose of Nature’s design, and the truth of God’s words and commandments. The imitation ignores the knowledge of the five senses, the fact of fixed sexual identity, and the wisdom of Nature’s laws.
Because marriage is ordered to the procreation, care, and education of children, the complementary virtues of mothers and fathers benefit sons and daughters who learn the nature of both justice and mercy, love and discipline, and strength and gentleness from the example of both parents. All human families require a father and a mother to provide special attention and tender love for the young and instruct them in the distinct vocations of fathers and mothers, not two mothers or two fathers who imagine themselves married or as entitled to special rights for the adoption of children. The real and the true are fruitful, and because “by their fruits you shall know them,” true marriages bless the young in abundant ways that protect them from the attacks against their innocence propagated by modern agendas that advocate sex education, alternative lifestyles, gender theory, and ideological indoctrination in public schools. All substitutes for authentic marriages and traditional families remain barren and produce no works that fill human life with joy, love, or peace in the knowledge that one is cooperating with God’s wise plan and Nature’s great purpose for the happiness of all members of the family and for the common good of future generations.
Though divorce and annulment both signify the dissolution of a marriage and the abrupt end of a loving relationship, one renders asunder what God has joined together and the other acknowledges that no valid marriage occurred in the first place. Divorce finds a multitude of reasons to justify the termination of marriage, citing incompatibility, unhappiness, boredom, reproductive freedom, or lack of romance. It makes light of the vows of marriage and its great obligations, placing self-interest and personal pleasures and desires above the common good of the family and the welfare of children. A valid marriage cannot suddenly be made invalid by the whim of one person tempted by “no-fault divorce” laws to end a lifetime commitment for any reason or no reason. A declaration of nullity, on the other hand, signifies that the various conditions for a valid or sacramental marriage were wanting, conditions like matrimonial consent. As explained by the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The consent must be an act of the will of each of the contracting persons, free of coercion or grave external fear . . . . If this freedom is lacking the marriage is invalid.”
Divorce, then, wantonly ruptures the oneness of an intact, inseparable union (“the two shall become one flesh”) whereas annulment presumes the absence of mutual consent, a man or a woman saying but not meaning “I take you to be my wife” or “I take you to be my husband.” Divorce and annulment do not carry the same meaning, even though separation occurs in both cases. If man and woman are united in body and soul in a valid marriage, divorce is forbidden (“It was not so from the very beginning”), but if this union of mutual consent or marital consummation is lacking, then no licit marriage follows. This difference is a logical, natural distinction that recognizes the unchangeable truth of marriage as a free, responsible choice that makes a commitment for a lifetime till “death do us part”–a truth divorce does not honor. Again the real thing rests upon speaking, meaning, and acting upon the truth, not pretending the truth of marriage varies from situation to situation.
Likewise the difference between a person and non-person is not arbitrary or indistinguishable as abortion advocates contend in claiming that the child in the womb is not a person until born. The pre-born infant exists, lives, breathes, moves, and grows in the womb. Its sex, genes, heredity, and DNA have been determined since the moment of conception. To deny the humanity of the child in utero amounts to denial of the obvious and self-evident and the rejection of scientific, empirical evidence available through ultrasound technology. The child in the womb is the same person who will be a man or woman at age forty or seventy, the only difference being the age or stage of development. Abortion advocates who argue freedom of choice, reproductive rights, respect for privacy, biological material, or unwanted child also evade truth, Nature, and God by failing to acknowledge the meaning and value of life as pre-determined, fixed, objective, real, and true and not subject to political opinion or secular thinking.
The real is not obscure, inscrutable, evasive, or confusing. It is as solid as rock, as wet as water, as hot as fire, and as true as 2+2=4. Appearance is not reality, and the ersatz is not the authentic. Common sense, natural law, and the five senses do not deceive. Only sophistic minds who misuse language and do not respect the actual meanings of words and things imagine that they can rename things and restructure morality to conform to their wishes as if reality is an illusion or a dream they do not have to accept or take seriously, as if reality will just mutate and develop to suit their personal preferences rather than loving the truth, obeying it, surrendering to it, and rejoicing in it.