Natural marriage

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Natural marriage is the name given in Catholic canon law to the covenant "by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring", and is distinguished from a sacramental or Christian marriage, in which the two parties involved are baptized.[1][2][3][3][4]

Valid baptism a condition for Christian marriage[edit]

Since only the baptized can receive the other sacraments, the marriage of someone who has accepted Christian beliefs but has not been baptized is non-sacramental. Similarly, the marriage of a person whose baptism the Catholic Church judges to be invalid is a non-sacramental natural marriage. Examples of such invalid baptisms are those of the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses.[5]

A marriage of two baptized Protestants, even if the church or churches they belong to and they themselves deny that marriage is a sacrament, and even if they contract marriage only civilly and not in church (they are not bound to observe the form that is obligatory for Catholics),[6] is a sacramental marriage, not a merely natural marriage.[7]

Transformation into sacramental marriage[edit]

The marriage that a non-baptized person, of whatever religion or belief, contracts, even with a baptized person, is a non-sacramental natural marriage. However, if the non-baptized person or persons are later baptized, the existing marriage automatically becomes sacramental and no longer merely natural.[8]

Conditions for natural marriage[edit]

If a Catholic marries a non-Catholic, the marriage is subject Catholic canon law on impediments to marriage. If no Catholic is involved, the only impediments that apply are those affecting the very definition of marriage (such as lack of consent, of diversity of sex, of ability to consummate the marriage, or the presence of an already existing marriage bond) and those that are considered part of natural law (such as a father-daughter relationship).[6][9][10][11]

Any marriage that is non-monogamous (polygamy),[12] non-heterosexual (same-sex marriage),[12] or involves males under 16 years old, females under 14 years old[13] (see marriageable age) or non-humans (zoophilia)[12] is an invalid marriage in what the church calls natural law.

Natural marriage and divorce[edit]

"The Catholic Church does not recognize or endorse civil divorce of a natural marriage as of a sacramental marriage".[14] However, a natural marriage, even if consummated, can be dissolved by the Church when to do so favours the maintenance of the faith on the part of a Christian, cases of what has been called Pauline privilege and Petrine privilege. In these cases, which require intervention by the Holy See, the Church admits real divorce, actual dissolution of a valid marriage, as distinct from the granting by merely human power of a divorce that, according to Catholic theology, does not really dissolve the marriage bond.


  1. ^ Code of Canon Law, canon 1055
  2. ^ Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 776
  3. ^ a b Adolfo N. Decanáy, Canon Law on Marriage (Ateneo University Press 2000 ISBN 978-97-1921710-7), p. 2
  4. ^ Catholic Marriage and annulments
  5. ^ Churches with Valid, Doubtful and Invalid Baptisms
  6. ^ a b Code of Canon Law, canon 11
  7. ^ Decanáy (2000), p. 4
  8. ^ Can. 1055 §2, 1983 Code of Canon Law
  9. ^ Eileen F. Stuart, Dissolution and Annulment of Marriage by the Catholic Church (Federation Press 1994 ISBN 978-1-86287136-6), p. 148
  10. ^ Joseph Domfeh-Boateng, The Catholic Church: Easy Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (Xlibris Corporation 2014 ISBN 978-1-49317435-5), p. 131
  11. ^ Dacanáy (2000), p. 20
  12. ^ a b c Can. 1055 §1, 1983 Code of Canon Law
  13. ^ Can. 1083 §1, 1983 Code of Canon Law
  14. ^ Sebastian S. Karambai, Ministers and Ministries in the Local Church (St Pauls BYB 2005 ISBN 978-81-7109725-8), p. 411, footnote 38