chapter  3
30 Pages

Marrying castrates, or: how to make a disabled social subject

ByKatherine Crawford

The barring of castrates from marriage has received far less attention, but discussions of permanent impotence in canon law and theology are abundant. Impotence is an impediment, which under canon law constitutes an obstacle that inhibits or precludes the performance of a sacrament. With respect to marriage, an impediment is either diriment or prohibitive. Broadly, two effects become apparent. First, constructing the valorization of voluntary celibacy in part by denigrating castration enabled the consolidation of social disability of castrates. Theologians and the commentators who took their cue from Catholic discussions of marital disqualification transformed physical impairment into social disability in ways that enabled imagining and enacting highly restricted access to the institution of marriage. Second, the discomfort evident in secular law is far more extensive and complex on the religious side. Where ancient Roman law allowed space for castrates and in a sense protected them, canon law reduced and then removed protections for the routine rights of castrates.