Earlier, I just attended my first (and hopefully last) church annulment hearing for the dissolution of my friend’s marriage to his wife. The marriage was long over, both parties have moved on, and their union has been legally annulled. The only thing left binding them together is the church wedding, the annulment of which is sufficiently more challenging and long-winding. My friend asked me to stand as witness, and as such, I needed to attend the hearing. I cannot say anything about the actual hearing, since I am bound not to reveal any of the questions, as well as any of my answers. But I guess that isn’t the point.
What disturbed me is how one has to go through so much ado to formally dissolve a union that has been dead for more than a decade now. It’s not as simple as telling your former loved one: “Break na tayo, now go away!” Today, more than any, I realized just how intrinsically different love and marriage are. One complements the other, but they are ABSOLUTELY different things. You can love many, but you can only marry one (at least in Catholic culture). Just like the horse and carriage metaphor, a horse is so not a carriage and a carriage is so not a horse. They go together, but one is not the same as the other. Loving someone is an ocean away from deciding to marry them. The decision to formalize the union in front of God and man is a leap not to be taken lightly. I still believe in marriage, or at least the concept of formalizing an existing bond by cementing it in front of your peers. You’re not just telling each other you love each other, but you shout it out to the rest of the world as well, as you vow to remain loyal to your one chosen spouse. It’s a romantic and pragmatic approach to finding a permanent mate. I just realized that this system leaves very little space for mistakes, miscalculations, and lapses in judgment. One mistake truly echoes through years of suffering bound to someone you’d rather be free of. I could think of few worse fates.
Which brings me to the debate of divorce. Honestly, as a layman, I don’t really see the difference between divorce and annulment. I have an idea of the rhetoric behind it, that one dissolves the marriage, while the other says the marriage was invalid in the first place, that there was no marriage to begin with. But wordplay aside, isn’t it the same thing in essence? In my opinion, they’re both a legal way out. Will legalizing divorce make lovers more rash, easily jumping into marriage, knowing that there is an easy exit in case they change their minds? Will legalizing it undermine the sanctity of marriage? Will it make couples in relationship peril exert less effort in trying to repair what’s broken? But has knowing that there’s no divorce ever stopped couples from rushing to the altar to vow their undying love only to spend the rest of their lives trying to claw their way out? Has it ever deterred fervent lovers from making the leap, knowing that there’s divorce in annulment’s clothing? Aren’t Filipinos already practicing divorce, only we refuse to call a spade a spade and call it by some other more palatable name?
Someone told me that divorce is still illegal only in three countries: The Vatican, Malta and the Philippines. Being single, it’s not an issue I’m extra passionate about, but seeing a friend struggle with it made me think twice about it. With the current hubbub surrounding sex education and gay marriage, the issue of divorce has pretty much been put in the back-burner. Should it be legalized? I don’t see why not. I understand why hardliners remain steadfast in staying unmoved regardless of how the rest of the world has moved on, I just don’t agree with it, I guess. I understand the whole “What God has put together, let no man tear asunder” sentiment, I just think that many couples are already getting off on a technicality. We may not have divorce, but we have its sneakier cousin.