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The Church’s struggle against the legalisation of gay unions is now a defining feature of its teachings on marriage

‘The redefinition of marriage’ is seen as a threat to religious liberty

By on Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The US bishops' new website presents Church teaching on marriage

The US bishops' new website presents Church teaching on marriage

I have been browsing around a new website, erected (if that’s the right word) by the US Conference of Bishops, entitled “Marriage: unique for a reason”. It contains teaching at various intellectual levels, including a sentimental video entitled “Made for Each Other: Sexual difference is essential to marriage”, in which a handsome married couple with perfect teeth “talk about why men and women matter for marriage”. “Their dialogue and interactions,” claims the website, “illuminate the beauty of sexual difference and complementarity between man and woman as husband and wife.”

Well, maybe. But one thing is clear: though the website gives the Church’s immemorial teachings about marriage (and does it, it seems to me, mostly rather well) it is – as the Church’s constant restatement of its unchanging beliefs for each new generation always is – very clearly a response to the situation in which we currently find ourselves. In particular, it is a response to the threat against the family represented by secular society’s accelerating movement towards accepting what were, only a generation ago, simply demands by a small minority of activists for the legalisation of homosexual “marriage”. It was seen very clearly then as a direct attack on the uniqueness of traditional marriage.

Now, this uniqueness is no longer taken for granted: homosexual “marriage” is more and more seen as a human right which ought to be enshrined in legislation. We have gone very far indeed along that road when a Conservative leader can say, at the Tory conference itself, something as mind-bendingly foolish as “Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us… So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.” This did not go down well in the Tory heartlands, but so what? Cameron knows the way things are going: and he will lose few votes by saying what he said.

That is where we now are; and that, increasingly, is where the Americans are, too; in fact, they led the way. Hence, the homepage on the USCCB’s new marriage website opens with the following introductory passage:

What is marriage? Are a man and a woman really essential to marriage? What about the child … and the role of mothers and fathers? Is it discriminatory to defend marriage as the union of one man and one woman? What impact does the redefinition of marriage have on religious liberty?

That is how, increasingly, the Church now sees it: we’ve gone beyond the point at which we are simply defending traditional marriage: more and more, this is seen as a question of defending our liberty to do it. The USCCB website invites us a little coyly to “Dive in deep to the Church’s teachings”: this can be done by going to one of the site’s most valuable pages, which gives links to statements on marriage by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Second Vatican Council, Pope Benedict XVI, Pope John Paul II, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Here are just two passages germane to that question about the impact of the redefinition of marriage on religious liberty. The first is from a document snappily entitled “Declaration of the Pontifical Council for the Family regarding the Resolution of the European Parliament dated March 16, 2000, making de facto unions, including same sex unions, equal to the family”:

The communications media report that the European Parliament has approved a Resolution regarding human rights in the European Union which also considers de facto unions, including the registered cohabitation of persons of the same sex, and the need to recognize “legal marriages” between persons of the same sex.

This Resolution represents a grave and repeated attack on the family based on marriage, a union of love and life between a man and a woman from which life naturally springs. Every society is solidly based on this marital union because it is a necessary value. To deny this fundamental and elementary anthropological truth would lead to the destruction of the fabric of society. Doesn’t making “de facto” unions, and all the more homosexual unions, equivalent to marriage, and inviting Parliaments to adjust their laws in this sense, represent a refusal to recognize the deep aspirations of peoples in their innermost identity?

We tend to give Vatican documents issued by dicasteries like the Pontifical Council for the Family a miss, assuming that they will be written in the usual impenetrable Vaticanese: but this passage is pretty close to being a cri de coeur. Here’s another, scarcely less oratorical in character, from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which almost jumps from the awful dull parchment colour of the Vatican website (when are they going to do something about that?): the title of this document is “Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons”: (2003)

The Church’s teaching on marriage and on the complementarity of the sexes reiterates a truth that is evident to right reason and recognized as such by all the major cultures of the world. Marriage is not just any relationship between human beings. It was established by the Creator with its own nature, essential properties and purpose.(3) No ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman, who by mutual personal gift, proper and exclusive to themselves, tend toward the communion of their persons. In this way, they mutually perfect each other, in order to cooperate with God in the procreation and upbringing of new human lives.

“No ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman”: well, you would have thought so, wouldn’t you? But we seem, all the same, destined to live through a period during which that certainty will more and more become clouded for many. In the end, it will, we may be sure, reassert itself: but only because of the many human casualties which will, I very much fear, emerge as our deeply confused society blunders around, continuing to undermine the stability of the traditional family based on marriage between a man and a woman. In the end, the tide will turn; and once more, the Church will be seen to have been right all along (as it was, for instance, over eugenics, whose assumptions were at one time almost universally believed). But it will take decades: I will not live to see it. Meanwhile, the Church is fighting back; perhaps, in the end, that is the one good thing to come from all this.

And one thing is certain: there will always be something.

  • Anonymous

    “I suggest that the way Jesus showed us how we should treat prostitutes gives us a very good model for respecting, understanding and treating with dignity gay people. This is part of the the Church’s official teaching about how we should respond to gay people.”     
    I have to say that I did find your equivalence with prostitutes amusing! But that aside, this is exactly what I think. I do not condone any hatred. The Church clearly teaches that gay people should be treated with understanding and compassion.

    However, Our Lord also said to the woman taken in adultery : Go, and sin no more.

    In other words, He did not allow her to be stoned, but nor did He condone her sin. She was told not to do it again.  In the same way, the Church says that homosexual people should be treated with all respect, but it does not say that sexual sin should be condoned.

    It’s hard to obey this. People are going to be drawn to each other. They are going to have feelings. The Church understands that people fall and the confessional is always there for those who have.

    This does not mean that those who are unrepentant and enter into relationships where they engage in the same sins repeatedly should be encouraged to do so, any more than unmarried heterosexuals should be.


  • Anonymous

    The Church is not part of that oppression. The Church is clear that gay people should be treated with respect.

    It just doesn’t encourage sexual sin, in the same way as it doesn’t encourage it amongst heterosexuals.

  • Anonymous

    Hello. I’ve posted it, somewhere else on the thread. Frankly this thread has become a bit unmanageable.

  • Anonymous

    I may have a look, although I’m afraid I often find these things come at this issue from a secular point of view and don’t really address the Church’s theological position. I do see the pastoral problem as you lay it out above, and in many ways the Church hasn’t really found a way to get to grips with this issue, but you have to understand that it’s a recent issue as it’s only been legal in these countries for a short time (England 1967, Scotland 1980, Jersey 1990) and it’s still illegal in many countries. The whole notion of homosexuality as a state of being is relatively recent, and the notion of gay rights even more so. This being so, it’s hardly surprising that the Vatican – thinking as it does over the very, very long term – hasn’t really explored all of the issues. There is a fundamental problem here, which is that the Church’s entire teaching on sexuality is based around marriage and procreation. Masturbation, for instance, is sinful because it is not open to life and sexual pleasure is seen as a reward for a potentially procreative act. I cannot for the life of me see how the Church can alter its position on homosexual relationships without unravelling the rest of its teaching on sexual behaviour and marriage. But then it’s not for me to worry about – my duty is just to do and die, as the saying goes.

    The thing which has to be understood is that it’s no good addressing this issue from a secular point of view. You can’t argue on the basis of a changing society. You can’t argue on the basis of what is observable in science or nature. You can’t even really argue from a pastoral viewpoint, as this won’t impact on the teaching itself. This has to be discussed within the only possible framework – the theological.

  • Anonymous

    “Most Catholic agencies here and in the USA have decided to accept the law of the land”

    You don’t appear to quite understand that in doing so they have ceased to be Catholic agencies. They have had to remove the word “Catholic” from their names. They can no longer occupy Church-owned properties. They no longer have collections taken for them in church. They no longer have the support of diocesan administrations. They have been severed from all connection with the Church. In the process, they have lost the source of much of their income, and the base from which they drew much of their clientele, as they are no longer promoted by the Church. Many of them have changed premises.

    They cannot remain open as Catholic agencies whilst the law remains in force as it currently stands.

  • Anonymous

    What Catholic Herald article?

  • Anonymous

    > I appreciate your point about the ECHR, but the reality is that whether they win or not there will now inevitably be attempts to force the Church to permit gay marriages in Church brought vexatiously by pressure groups.

    Obviously such attempts would have to be resisted if they were to be made. But have there been attempts to force the Church to permit ‘marriages’ in Church between people, one or other or both of whom has a spouse living? Such ‘marriages’ are permitted by the Civil Law but not by the Church, and I don’t think the Church’s refusal to allow them has ever been questioned.

  • Anonymous

    “Obviously such attempts would have to be resisted if they were to be made. But have there been attempts to force the Church to permit ‘marriages’ in Church between people, one or other or both of whom has a spouse living? Such ‘marriages’ are permitted by the Civil Law but not by the Church, and I don’t think the Church’s refusal to allow them has ever been questioned.”

    No, but then there aren’t militant divorcees’ rights groups with the will to back litigation, are there?

  • Marcella Carmen C.

    It was way past time for the Church to fight back.  Had her ministers been more convincing from the pulpit decades ago, she would not be in this unenviable position now. 

  • Marcella Carmen C.

    Torture was never CHURCH TEACHING!  It may have been the “teaching” of some sinful men and women living and working in it, but it was never presented as a doctrine!  During the period of the Inquisition, records show how often non-Catholics asked to be judged by Catholic judges because they knew they would find more common-sense and mercy from them in the matter of serious accusations, such as witchcraft.

  • Marcella Carmen C.

    Many, many gay men are paedophiles, so what is your problem?  The point in the debate is this: Originally gays simply wanted to be gays without the risk of imprisonment.  When they got that, what happened?

    They immediately made the disliking of what they do a crime!  People are sent to prison, or lose their jobs, or their livelyhoods, by daring to say that gays are not welcome to the hospitality of a minority of hoteliers, or by encouraging one whom you know to try therapy as it has been shown to be effective in many, many cases, or simply to believe it is not a natural way to behave but if you want to live that way, just don’t shove it in the face of me and my children/grandchildren.

    None of this ill-feeling would be generated if gays had simply accepted they were now free under the law to have sex in their chosen way, and allowed the rest of us to say fine, but don’t call it marriage and don’t demand that these unions must be available in Christian churches, or Muslim mosques, or Jewish temples.  There is such a thing as cutting off your nose to spite your face.

  • Marcella Carmen C.

    You don’t understand that to a Christian, marriage is a SACRAMENT.  According to our beliefs it was made this by God, who decreed it to be the union of a man and a woman in the Bible.  If you don’t believe this, that’s OK by me, I respect your right to live your unique type of union and make it right in the eyes of the law for all kinds of legal reasons, such as property rights etc.  Have your Civil Union and be happy with it.  Please allow the majority, who cannot believe your union is a SACRAMENT, to say whom we believe qualifies for a SACRAMENTAL marriage in one of our churches.  Simple.

  • Marcella Carmen C.

    Ignoring what the Catholic Church teaches does not mean one is right.  It means you are ignoring that teaching and are wilfully willing to take the consequences.  It also means you have self-excomminicated yourself whether you know it or not, like it or not, in serious matters like approving abortion and non-natural contraception.  A lot of Catholics who do this later come to  regret their wilfulness and accept that the Church was right after all.  I was one of them on the question of contraception.  Now I recognise how the embedding of that thinking into our culture lead on to a general distaste for children generally.  Whoever hears today of an unexpected child being called a “gift” from God?  Start with disliking children other than the the pick-&-choose-the-sex-and-number of them, then make a target of the “useless” in society, (and therefore not seing the eternally loving, mostly cheerful Down’s person as a person with a right to Life), and  pretty soon another target appears: the “burdensome” elderly.  (Never mind if they worked diligently so the Treasury would find money for YOUR pension, or even if they worked in a lab that produced a cure for something that ails you!)

  • Marcella Carmen C.

    Jesus made marriage a Sacrament between a man and a woman by working his first known public miracle at a wedding.  We have no teaching of Jesus to say he approved of homosexuality.  The Gospels, written by men who knew him or who knew people who knew him, are full of disapproval for sexual sinfulness and that would include homosexuality because in the widespread paganism of much of the known world of the time there was widespread liscentiousness.  Much like today, I would say.  Jesus does talk a lot about sin and sinners, and consequences for sin.  He told the woman caught it adultery that he would not judge her, but he ordered her: “Go AND SIN NO MORE!”  As God he knew why she had sinned, but he did not want her to continue to sin, so he named what she did a sin.

  • Anonymous

    You mean no-one is “yet” proposing the right to marry their sister/brother.  It is not a complete red herring…this whole issue is being driven incrementally by the morally relevant whose dominant philosophical lode star is more rights for more people.  Once you redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, then you have no substantial philosophical argument against brothers/sisters marrying, fathers/sons marrying, or in fact marriage existing between between three or more people.  To argue against it, is to be narrow-minded and rigid.  Once you remove the historically fundamental nature of marriage as being one man and one woman with the normative capability of procreating offspring, then it’s open season on any form of relationship being given the right to marry. 
    And the fact that many marriages today break down or aren’t able to produce children is no more an argument against the traditional concept of marriage, than cars breaking down at the side of the road being proof against the concept of the automobile (or that ducks should be called automobiles too).  

  • Anonymous

    If the world population is exploding, it’s not because American/European cultures are procreating at rates of less than 2.1 children per couple.  North America is becoming more Hispanic, and Europe is becoming more  muslim.  Economic migration plays a part, but at the end of the day “those that breed will succeed…and inherit the earth”

    How do you think the Mormon’s have grown from 1.4 million in the 1920′s to 14.1 million members 90 years later (besides robust missionary work)?

    BTW who says the UN is not guilty of speading its own propaganda for political purposes? 

  • Playup27

    I wouls suggest that what upsets God is ‘sin’ which always originates from abreach of the Ten Commandments -we are all sinners.At no time in the Holy Scriptures is their mention of a ‘ same sex marrige”The Gospels do not deem it worthy of comment ;to fabricate the Gospels to suit your ‘opinions’ is blatant bigotry reminescent of a wolf stalking the sheep for familiarity prior to an outright attack

  • Trockfield

    You are a bigot.

  • Anonymous

    If you want to see how far things have gone before marriage is even officiially redefined, see the video of a woman who has married a building! See