Marriage Is Permanent

Author: Fr Anthony Zimmerman


Fr Anthony Zimmerman, S.T.D.


Letters decrying abuses of marriage nullification on the one hand, and the insightful article by Connie Marshner "Contemporary Dating as Serial Monogamy" on the other hand, ran in the same October 1998 issue. That may raise the question: might trigger happy nullifiers be right after all? Do former "serial monogamists" carry a nullifying mentality into a pseudo-marriage contract? Marshner describes as follows the attitude of many who have had multiple experiences with "going steady" and then breaking up again and again: "Everybody knows that the reason for the relationship is to be cool and to have fun (so, naturally, when it ceases to be fun, it is ended). Nobody pretends there is any serious commitment implied or expected." Again she writes: "The next time one holds back a little more of the heart ... and when one suspects that a breakup is in the offing, or when one wants to end it, one will know how to end it... It is a pattern which paves the way for every divorce." If they marry in the Church finally, with a vague mentality to break it up if it doesn't work, do they marry? Yes they do, and for life. That is the public presumption. If they have the intention to marry at all, they must marry in accordance with the essential nature of marriage. That is the condition under which the community and the Church admit them to well-defined benefits for themselves and for their children. If they cheat, they deceive and defraud the public.

By the ceremony of marriage couples acquire for themselves a public status with defined rights, privileges, and relationships. Their children will have real and known parents who have duties toward them. Their children will also have rights of inheritance, will have uncles and aunts, grandparents, and a wide circle of persons whom the community expects to be personally involved with them. To obtain all these goods and privileges for themselves and their children, couples must marry validly in accordance with public expectations. Children born out of wedlock have a far less privileged entrance into life than those of married parents. When a couple steps forward before, the community to declare their intention to marry, they step into a public commitment whose essential nature and conditions the couple cannot alter. (Of course, if they give recognizable and provable signs that they do not accept the essential conditions for marriage, they do not marry at all.)

To use a comparison: marriage is not like flying a two-seater airplane around the countryside at will. It is like boarding a scheduled nonstop flight with other passengers headed for a predetermined destination. Even if a couple gets the notion to deplane while high over the ocean or land, that is not possible. Marriage is like that: the partners don't set the conditions. So if a couple steps forward to marry, they marry as the public expects them to marry, not as they would prefer to do. The public has a right to hold them to the public expectations.

If a commercial pilot is requested by a couple after takeoff to turn back instead of going on, he is not likely to do so. If he were to do this once, twice, ten times, passengers would stop using the airline and the pilot would be fired. And judges who make a habit of "nullifying" real marriages should all be fired. Not tomorrow. Today, before nightfall.

Published in Letters to Editor, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, May 1999

Further writings by Fr. Zimmerman may be found at

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