Should Catholics attend invalid weddings?

One of the most common questions you’ll hear raised in Catholic circles is whether a Catholic can attend a wedding that the Church does not consider valid. For example, perhaps your brother is divorced, without an annulment and is getting remarried. Or your child was baptized Catholic but is getting married in a non-Catholic setting. And more recently, another possible situation has arisen: the same-sex wedding. 

Are Catholics allowed to attend such weddings? If so, should Catholics attend these weddings? 

To answer the first question, there is no canon law that forbids a Catholic to attend a non-valid wedding. However, that does not mean that one always should attend such a wedding, or that it would always be prudent and wise to do so.  

In deciding on whether to attend these events, one has to weigh between a legitimate desire to avoid harm to a relationship and an equally legitimate desire to avoid supporting a sinful situation. 

Grounded in love

Let us consider first the case of a wedding, between a man and a woman, that the Church does not recognize.  

Many are worried that “boycotting” such events does more harm than good — that the hurt and offense it gives to those getting married does more harm to their souls than the good the witness of not attending brings. Some even argue that such a “boycott” is always counterproductive — it always leads to broken family relationships and long-term harm.  

However, speaking from personal experience, I can say that one can decline an invitation to a nonvalid family wedding (it is not a “boycott”) and still maintain a solid relationship with the participants. But to do so must build on a foundation of copious prayer, serious discussion with the couple of the reasons for declining, and continual expressions of love (in word and action) for the people involved. Even if the family member doesn’t agree with your decision, he can come to see that it is at least grounded in sincere love. 

Mocking the sacrament

But what about a same-sex marriage? This situation seems more clear-cut, as the “marriage” doesn’t even have the appearance of a true marriage. Not only is it not a valid marriage, but it is a mockery of the essential nature of marriage, which is a union between a man and woman for the purposes of unity and procreation. An invalid marriage between a man and a woman at least has the potential to eventually be recognized by the Church (if and when any impediments are overcome), but this is not the case with a homosexual marriage.  

Thus, it is hard to conceive of a compelling argument for a Catholic to attend such an event. One’s presence publicly lends support to the very idea of same-sex marriage, thus undermining the foundations of one of the Church’s seven sacraments.  

Obviously, in this situation too, one must show charity toward the participants, ensuring them of your love for them, while refusing to support their actions. There is no question that this is a difficult situation that demands much prayer and penance. 

Saintly models

Ultimately, each person must decide for himself the best course of action in individual situations. The key is to avoid accepting an invitation simply out of fear of rejection, or declining an invitation out of a sense of judgment and self-righteousness.  

Two models for Catholics today facing these situations are St. John the Baptist and St. Thomas More. Both were beheaded for refusing to recognize an invalid marriage, but both acted out of a deep love for the persons involved, as well as for all those who would be affected by these marriages.

We must pray for the courage to stand for the truth in a loving and humble manner.