Why is a marriage not valid if it is not a Catholic marriage?

I am engaged to be married and and my anti- Catholic (Jehovah Witness) friend asked me why we are taking so long to get married. I told her that we have to wait at least 6 months and we are taking some marriage prep classes. I also said to her that I want to do everything correctly in keeping with my faith and sacraments. She said there is nothing in the Bible that says that a marriage is not valid unless it is in the Catholic Church and that people can get married where they want and it is still a valid marriage under the eyes of God. I told her to respect my choices and my religious beliefs. After that whole conversation I did wonder why the Catholic Church believe this and where does it come from. Can you give me some ammunition for next time?

Your friend, while spinning it in an anti-Catholic manner, does make some valid points. It is not by divine law that Catholics are required to be married in the Church. It is a matter of Church law, and thus could be changed. For most of the history of the Catholic Church this requirement did not exist, its only about 400 years old. And, as we noted, it applies only to Catholics. Two non-Catholics of any faith or no faith at all validly marry when they exchange consent regardless of where it take place.

The Church’s ability to create laws is found in the Gospels where Jesus gives the apostles the power of binding and loosing (Matthew 16:19; 18:18). The expression “binding and loosing” means forbidding and permitting. Jesus gave to the apostles and their successors the power to create laws that forbid or permit things. One may debate the practicality or reasonableness of some laws, but they remain a valid exercise of authority.

So, why does the Church generally forbid Catholics to be married outside the Church? The answer is pretty simple: respect for the sacrament. All sacraments take place in a church unless there is a compelling reason otherwise. Ordinations, confessions, baptisms, Eucharist, etc. all normally take place in a church. Marriage is equally as important as those sacraments.

With the advent of increasing mixed marriages (Catholics to non-Catholics), this requirement helped protect the faith of the Catholic party and ensured that a proper understanding of marriage was held by both parties.

Historically there were also issues with secret/clandestine marriages. Marriages with no witnesses or very few witnesses were difficult to prove or disprove if one of the parties wanted to leave the marriage. The requirement for a Church marriage made every marriage a matter of official public record.

When it comes to to your friend, the issue at hand is not whether a marriage outside the Church could be valid rather the issue your friend has is with the authority of the Church to make laws.

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