Why is the Church so adamantly opposed to "gay marriages" and civil unions? Doesn't the Church's stance discriminate against homosexuals? What harm is done if homosexual activity is between consenting adults? How does it affect my marriage and family? Why does the Church care if in fact the Church won't be required to witness such unions?
These are just some of the questions bandied about today in the debate over gay marriage and civil unions. (And for the sake of the record, there's really no difference between the two; just different terms for the same thing. It seems, however, that some advocates use civil unions as a stepping stone to legitimize gay marriage.)
As the debate continues, it's really important that Catholics understand why this is such a critical moral issue and why the Church is involved. And we begin with a review of the Church's fundamental teaching about marriage.
As Catholics we believe that matrimony is a sacred institution, designed by God and raised to a level of a sacrament by Jesus Christ.
The Bible clearly sets forth God's plan for the human race: "God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them, saying, 'Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it'." (Gn 1:27-28)
The teaching of the Church explains: "The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws ... God himself is the author of marriage." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1603)
The two divinely established purposes of marriage are obvious - to promote life and love - to be creative and unitive. This life-giving complementarity between the sexes is natural and normative. "Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another." (Catechism, #1605)
A statement of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Family, Marriage and De Facto Unions, explains it this way: "We can also see how incongruous is the demand to grant 'marital' status to unions between persons of the same sex. It is opposed, first of all, by the objective impossibility of making the partnership fruitful through the transmission of life according to the plan inscribed by God ... Marriage cannot be reduced to a condition similar to that of a homosexual relationship: this is contrary to common sense." (#23)
The statement refers to "common sense" and I think that's important. When we learned about the birds and the bees, it was always male and female birds and bees, wasn't it? Some advocates of homosexuality point to the fact that there's evidence of homosexual behavior in the animal kingdom, and I suppose that's true. But it always emerges as an exception to the norm, doesn't it?
Finally, even from a biological standpoint, the "facts of life" are obvious: man and woman are physically designed for union with each other.
In short, from the evidence of the Bible, the teachings of the Church, common sense and biology, so called gay marriages and civil unions are contrary to God's plan, morally objectionable, and an unacceptable substitute for marriage.
But how do we respond to the questions being raised today?
Isn't the Church's teaching discriminatory against homosexuals?
Not at all. The Church's teaching about homosexuality should be well known by now. It revolves around the distinction between homosexual activity and homosexual persons. First is the Church's belief that "'Homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.' They are contrary to the natural law.... Under no circumstances can they be approved." (Catechism, #2357) The Church also insists, however, that men and women with same sex attractions are valued members of the human family and must be treated with the same respect and love as every other child of God. "Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." (Catechism, #2358). As I've publicly written on two other occasions, "Hatred, persecution, prejudice and ridicule of homosexuals is a grave sin and must always be treated as such." (The Catholic Exponent, November 14, 1997 and November 8, 2002.)
This teaching of the Church does not intend to offend our homosexual brothers and sisters, and we recognize that for some individuals and their families, especially parents, questions of sexual identity and behavior can be very difficult and emotionally charged. To those individuals and their families we offer our sincere concern and prayerful support. As a society, however, we have to understand the possibility, sometimes the necessity, of loving and respecting individuals even while rejecting their inappropriate or immoral behavior. (Parents have to do that with their children once in awhile, don't they?)
Additionally, it's not a matter of civil rights as some have claimed. Freedom is not unbridled license. Authentic human freedom is intrinsically connected to moral truth. In short, there's never a right to do something wrong.
What harm is done if the activity is between consenting adults?
The fact that two adults consent to an action doesn't make it morally right or socially acceptable. The "harm" is that such reasoning leads us down a very dangerous and permissive slope to the detriment of the common good and the spiritual impoverishment of the individuals involved. After all, two consenting adults can engage in drug use, prostitution, bigamy, polygamy or other immoral activities. In other words, the determination of the morality of an action is found in the act itself and not in the consent of the people involved!
How does gay marriage affect my marriage and family?
We should recognize that in every culture and society throughout the ages traditionally defined marriage, as a stable union of one man and one woman, has been normative and has been given protection and respect. "The definition of the family's identity is a priority.... Such marital and family stability does not only depend on the good will of concrete persons; it takes on an institutional character of public recognition by the State.... The recognition, protection and promotion of this stability contributes to the general interest, especially of the weakest, i.e., the children." (Family, Marriage and De Facto Unions, #14)
In other, simpler terms, marriage as traditionally defined has always been a privileged institution, and that distinction should be recognized, preserved and applauded. Accepting other personal unions as equivalent to marriage undermines the special status afforded to marriage in every society and culture. Examples of this point: in the classroom if all the students routinely get "A"s on their report cards, the work of the real "A" student is devalued. In the Olympics, if everyone receives a gold medal, why bother competing? And if everything is marriage, then marriage is nothing!
Why does the Church care if in fact the Church won't be required to preside over such unions?
First of all the Church is a citizen of this world and cares deeply about the moral condition of the culture in which she lives as well as the spiritual well-being of all our brothers and sisters, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.
More to the point however, recent experience has shown that practices that begin as optional quickly become mandatory, even for religious communities morally opposed to them. Recall, for example, that in Massachusetts, there has been a concerted effort to require Catholic adoption agencies to place children with homosexual "families" although such a practice is clearly opposed to Catholic moral principles. In some states there has been a move to force Catholic health care facilities to provide "emergency contraception" or other immoral procedures, even when they are contrary to the sacred holdings of their conscience.
Is there much doubt, therefore, that before long some activists, appealing to the argument of "non-discrimination" will seek to require the Catholic Church to witness or approve of gay marriages or civil unions under the threat of civil or even criminal penalties?
Finally, a word about our political leaders. Legislators have a serious moral obligation to preserve and promote the common good; to support laws that protect marriage and family and reject legislative initiatives that fail to do so.
The statement from the Pontifical Council for the Family explains, "Those who are involved in politics ought to be aware of the seriousness of this problem.... It is up to politicians to be vigilant (not only on the level of principles but also of applications) to avoid a breakdown, with serious present and future consequences, of the relationship between moral and civil law." (#18) And as Pope John Paul II said, in words that surely apply to this question: "No one can ever renounce this responsibility, especially when he or she has a legislative or decision-making mandate, which calls that person to answer to God, to his or her own conscience and to the whole of society." (Evangelium Vitae, #90)
Our legislators are under intense political pressure from well-organized special interest groups to support legislative initiatives that would obliterate traditional concepts of marriage and family. Our representatives need our prayers, as well as our personal and public support, that they will have the wisdom to know what is right and the courage to do it in protecting the precious gift of marriage and family.
To summarize: We believe that matrimony is a sacred union of one man and one woman, designed by God and blessed by Jesus Christ, and that it is a fundamental building block of every society and culture. We believe that persons with homosexual tendencies are children of God and our brothers and sisters, deserving of our respect and prayers. We believe, however, that homosexual activity is immoral, that it is contrary to the natural law, the tenets of the Bible and the teaching of the Church. We believe that the concept of gay marriage or civil unions detracts from the common good and is harmful to families, and that the state should not, and in fact cannot, ratify such unions.