Canonical marriage but not civil?

By Father Kenneth Doyle

Catholic News Service

Q: I am a widow going out now with a widower. We love each other and he wants me to marry him. Can we get married in the church, keep our own names and not be married by the law of the state?

The reason is this: If we get married under state law, I would lose my deceased husband’s social security and pension, and that would put a financial burden on me. Please advise. (southeastern Indiana)

A: Unfortunately, I don’t see a way for you to do this. In the United States, marriage by a member of the clergy is recognized by the state as a valid civil marriage. Prior to the marriage, a civil marriage license must be presented to the officiant, who then signs it following the ceremony and returns it to the municipal jurisdiction where the couple obtained it.

If a priest in the U.S. were to marry a couple in a church ceremony without reporting it as a civil marriage, that would be considered fraudulent. (I could see in a nation, for example, where interracial marriages were prohibited that a priest could on principle marry a couple religiously without reporting it civilly — but in the U.S., I don’t think it’s possible.)