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Is a marriage between a transman and transwoman in accordance with Roman Catholic canon law?

The transman and transwoman can still engage in intercourse to make babies, but the transman would be the one to get pregnant, assuming that they still have functional sex organs.

I am asking this question, because I am not sure whether transsexuality itself is a sin or whether the act of going against procreative sex is a sin. I believe the answer may reflect how the clerics will handle a case where the participants involved in the wedding are one transman and one transwoman.

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TR;DR

So long as the persons have not rendered themselves impotent, there is nothing preventing two transgender persons from marrying one another.

However, the Church essentially recognizes only the so-called biological sex of the persons. Hence, she would regard the transgender “man” as a woman, and the transgender “woman” as a man.

In general, the Church holds that the faithful have a strict right to the sacrament of matrimony, provided the candidates are one man and one woman, and there are no impediments (e.g., when at least one of the parties is already married to someone else, or impotent).

Hence, although transgenderism is deeply problematic (for the reasons I will mention below), that would not prevent a couple from marrying.

The background behind this

There is very little in Church documents regarding transexualism, because it is a relatively new phenomenon (at least, it did not become a major issue for the Church until very recently). It is not mentioned at all in Canon Law.

Pope Francis has spoken out against so-called gender theory (see, for example, the general audience on April 15, 2015), which asserts that a person’s sex (his biological configuration as male or female) is distinct from his gender (his subjective perception of being man or woman).

The problematic aspect of this theory is not so much that these two notions are distinct (they evidently are, because empirically, gender dysphoria does exist) but the idea that “biological” sex is malleable—that it can be changed by a mere external procedure (such as surgery or hormone treatment).

However, sound philosophical principles, backed up by good science, and reiterated in the Bible, can help to answer the question.

Man is one and whole

The first and most important principle is that a human being is one and whole. Man is not (as René Descartes famously asserted) a spirit that happens to be united to a body—as if the spirit and the body were separate beings. (See Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy, II, in which he explains res cogitans—i.e., the soul—and how it relates to res extensa—realites that are “extended” in space, including our body.)

Rather, each person is a unique and undivided being. His body is just as much a part of his being as his soul—so much so that it can only be separated from his soul with the greatest violence. (We call that “death.”)

Gaudium et spes, Vatican II’s pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world, sums up this idea succinctly:

Though made of body and soul, man is one. … For this reason man is not allowed to despise his bodily life, rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and honorable since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day (Gaudium et spes, 14).

Indeed, a person’s bodily life is entirely imbued with and ennobled by his soul. It follows that even his biological functions—especially one as fundamental and profound as his sexuality—are most closely united to his soul.

Male and female he created them

A person’s “biological sex,” therefore, is given to a person from the moment of his conception, and it cannot be changed: it is far too fundamental a part of his being. Indeed, a person’s sex endures for all eternity. Although we can know this through reason alone, the Bible beautifully sums up this principle when it says,

So God created man [understood generically, as in “mankind”] in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it,

Man and woman have been created, which is to say, willed by God: on the one hand, in perfect equality as human persons; on the other, in their respective beings as man and woman. “Being man” or “being woman” is a reality which is good and willed by God: man and woman possess an inalienable dignity which comes to them immediately from God their Creator (No. 369, emphasis added).

Consequently, the sex that a person is born with is the sex that he will possess for life (indeed, as mentioned, for all eternity). No amount of surgery or other treatment can change it. (Therefore, if a person experiences gender dysphoria, then he needs help—including professional help, if necessary—in identifying with his own sex, not interventions to “change” his sex.)

Regarding the marriage of transgender persons

For these reasons, the Church can only consider the sex that persons possessed from birth (in reality, from conception) when assessing whether a couple is able to marry. If one or both of the parties happens to be transgender, that is a secondary issue, so long as one man (male at birth) marries one woman (female at birth).

  • Okay. I upvote this question, since it seems to be more comprehensive/complete than the other answer. I think your answer implies that the Catholic church really is concerned about not being able to fulfill the marital duty (make babies), as opposed to what a person looks like. So, that means same-gender marriage between two devout Catholics (man and transgender man) would be more acceptable than same-sex marriage (man and man). – Double U Sep 9 '15 at 23:32
  • The potential impediment would not be biological, but based on the couple's disordered rejection of their natural sex roles. In the case that they were married, the church would recognize the man as the husband and the woman as the wife, which would likely be unacceptable to this couple. As a result, it is questionable as to whether the couple intends to do what the church asks of married couples and believes what the church believes about marriage, which are key requirements for entering into a sacramental marriage. – JAGAnalyst Sep 10 '15 at 3:46
  • @DoubleU It would be better to say, the Church would say that the union of two persons of the same sex is simply not a marriage, whereas, provided there are no other impediments, a marriage is at least possible between a man and a woman who considers herself a transgender man. In reality, the Church’s position on gender theory does not reduce to a people’s baby-making ability; a person’s sexuality goes much deeper than that. Rather, it is a question of respecting what will actually make the person happy and at peace. – AthanasiusOfAlex Sep 10 '15 at 4:58
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    @JAGAnalyst You have a point, but supposing the couple were sincerely trying to live according to the Church's teachings, then at least in theory such a marriage is possible. Pastorally, it would certainly be best to dissuade such a couple from marrying until they took steps to resolve their sexual dysphoria. – AthanasiusOfAlex Sep 10 '15 at 5:03
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    @AthanasiusOfAlex Yes, this is what I meant by a potential impediment. If they intended to live as the church asks and they intend what the church intends, the issue is a practical pastoral issue regarding their readiness to enter into the sacrament, similar to a faithful man or woman experiencing a deep-seated same-sex attraction. It may be that I did not distinguish well between the difference of someone living as transgender or transsexual versus someone with a tendency toward identifying as the opposite sex. – JAGAnalyst Sep 10 '15 at 5:22
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From Pope Pius XI's encyclical on Christian Marriage, Casti Connubii:

  1. […] Christian doctrine establishes, and the light of human reason makes it most clear, that private individuals have no other power over the members of their bodies than that which pertains to their natural ends; and they are not free to destroy or mutilate their members, or in any other way render themselves unfit for their natural functions, except when no other provision can be made for the good of the whole body.

In the case of someone clearly a male or female trying to change their sex to a female or male, respectively, they are certainly "render[ing] themselves unfit for their natural functions"—especially their sexual functions—because such sex change mutilations involve injecting high doses of hormones of the opposite sex, which "they are not free to" do because "other provision[s] can [certainly] be made for the good of the whole body," i.e., not undergoing an "operation" when one does not have a disease.

Catholics incapable of performing the marriage act to consummate a marriage contract marriage invalidly:

1983 Can. 1084 §1. Antecedent and perpetual impotence to have intercourse, whether on the part of the man or the woman, whether absolute or relative, nullifies marriage by its very nature.

Thus, a Catholic priest would have to seriously question whether or not a "transman" and "transwoman," because of their mutilation/"operation", have "perpetual impotence to have intercourse".

  • @DoubleU's question clearly indicates that he's asking about pre-op transgender couples, so the concern about not being able to consummate the marriage doesn't apply to this situation. – curiousdannii Sep 9 '15 at 6:11
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    @curiousdannii What is a "pre-op transgender" person? – Geremia Sep 11 '15 at 2:16
  • Transgender refers to someone who identifies as the gender which is not their biological sex. Some of these people go through 'sex change' surgery, some don't. Your answer assumes they have, but the question is asking about those who haven't (because it asks about those who can still have children.) – curiousdannii Sep 11 '15 at 2:22
  • Yes, as changing sex is not a Catholic thing to do, transgender Catholics probably are limited to living as the opposite gender. Changing sex may be against their beliefs, so a superficial cross-gender makeover is a possibility. – Double U Sep 11 '15 at 4:48
  • @curiousdannii So: "If a man thinks he's a woman and a woman thinks she's a man, can they get married?" Yes, of course, because (barring other issues) there is no "perpetual impotence to have intercourse." – Geremia Sep 12 '15 at 2:55

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