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Full text: English and Welsh bishops’ letter on same-sex marriage

By on Tuesday, 6 March 2012

A Letter on Marriage from the President and Vice-President of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,

This week the Coalition Government is expected to present its consultation paper on the proposed change in the legal definition of marriage so as to open the institution of marriage to same-sex partnerships.

Today we want to put before you the Catholic vision of marriage and the light it casts on the importance of marriage for our society.

The roots of the institution of marriage lie in our nature. Male and female we have been created, and written into our nature is this pattern of complementarity and fertility. This pattern is, of course, affirmed by many other religious traditions. Christian teaching fills out this pattern and reveals its deepest meaning, but neither the Church nor the State has the power to change this fundamental understanding of marriage itself.

Nor is this simply a matter of public opinion. Understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, and for the creation and upbringing of children, marriage is an expression of our fundamental humanity. Its status in law is the prudent fruit of experience, for the good of the spouses and the good of the family. In this way society esteems the married couple as the source and guardians of the next generation. As an institution marriage is at the foundation of our society.

There are many reasons why people get married. For most couples, there is an instinctive understanding that the stability of a marriage provides the best context for the flourishing of their relationship and for bringing up their children. Society recognises marriage as an important institution for these same reasons: to enhance stability in society and to respect and support parents in the crucial task of having children and bringing them up as well as possible.

The Church starts from this appreciation that marriage is a natural institution, and indeed the Church recognises civil marriage. The Catholic understanding of marriage, however, raises this to a new level. As the Catechism says: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, by its nature is ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptised persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.” (para.1601)

These rather abstract words are reflected however imperfectly in the experience of married couples. We know that at the heart of a good marriage is a relationship of astonishing power and richness, for the couple, their children, their wider circle of friends and relations and society. As a Sacrament, this is a place where divine grace flows. Indeed, marriage is a sharing in the mystery of God’s own life: the unending and perfect flow of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We know, too, that just as God’s love is creative, so too the love of husband and wife is creative of new life. It is open, in its essence, to welcoming new life, ready to love and nurture that life to its fullness, not only here on earth but also into eternity.

This is a high and noble vision, for marriage is a high and noble vocation. It is not easily followed. But we are sure that Christ is at the heart of marriage, for his presence is a sure gift of the God who is Love, who wants nothing more than for the love of husband and wife to find its fulfilment. So the daily effort that marriage requires, the many ways in which family living breaks and reshapes us, is a sharing in the mission of Christ, that of making visible in the world the creative and forgiving love of God.

In these ways we understand marriage to be a call to holiness for a husband and wife, with children recognised and loved as the gift of God, with fidelity and permanence as the boundaries which create its sacred space. Marriage is also a crucial witness in our society, contributing to its stability, its capacity for compassion and forgiveness and its future, in a way that no other institution can.

In putting before you these thoughts about why marriage is so important, we also want to recognise the experience of those who have suffered the pain of bereavement or relationship breakdown and their contribution to the Church and society. Many provide a remarkable example of courage and fidelity. Many strive to make the best out of difficult and complex situations. We hope that they are always welcomed and helped to feel valued members of our parish communities.

The reasons given by our government for wanting to change the definition of marriage are those of equality and discrimination. But our present law does not discriminate unjustly when it requires both a man and a woman for marriage. It simply recognises and protects the distinctive nature of marriage.

Changing the legal definition of marriage would be a profoundly radical step. Its consequences should be taken seriously now. The law helps to shape and form social and cultural values. A change in the law would gradually and inevitably transform society’s understanding of the purpose of marriage. It would reduce it just to the commitment of the two people involved. There would be no recognition of the complementarity of male and female or that marriage is intended for the procreation and education of children.

We have a duty to married people today, and to those who come after us, to do all we can to ensure that the true meaning of marriage is not lost for future generations.

Most Reverend V. Nichols

Most Reverend P. Smith


  • Chris Morley

    It seems you may have slightly misunderstood, like Cardinal O’Brien, article 16 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

    Despite what the Cardinal claimed in the Sunday Telegraph, article 16 does not ‘define’ marriage as between a man and a woman. Instead it tells us who has the Human Right to insist their State allows them to get married: only male/female couples have that as a Convention Human Right.

    This does not mean that same sex couples cannot get married. Same sex marriage is not ‘banned’ by the Convention, as you yourself point out.
    What the Austrian case in 2010 decided is simply that same sex couples can’t use the Human Rights Convention to insist a State allows them to marry.
    But if a State makes it legal for same sex couples to marry they can do so, using that State’s law.

    10 States now have same sex marriage laws, 7 of them in Europe. It looks like the UK will soon be added to that number. The ten states are Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, and Sweden. Some US States also allow gay marriage.
    Maybe in a few years time, once the majority of European countries have allowed same sex marriage, Article 16 will be updated to include same
    sex couples, along with heterosexual couples, in having the Human Right
    to marriage.

    The government’s stated objective in proposing to allow civil gay marriage is not to ‘stoke up anti-Christian and anti-gay sentiments’ but rather to make our society more equal by allowing same sex couples the same right to marry in a civil ceremony, as heterosexual couples now have to marry in a registrar’s office.

    I don’t think ‘they’ are really trying to impose a ‘PC brigade world view’ on you. Your thoughts are free and your own. You are free to continue to believe that marriage is exactly as the Catholic Church teaches. It also teaches that there can be no divorce. Most of us manage to get by day to day in a country where divorce is in fact legal and pretty common. I’m sure you’ll be similarly unscathed if civil gay marriage becomes permitted. If you don’t believe in divorce, don’t divorce. If you don’t believe in gay marriage, avoid marrying someone of the same sex. Let the rest of the country get on with its own choices. This is what living in a democracy entails.

  • John Byrne

    “She goes on, and on, and on, and on…” Jane says.
    Yet “EditorCT” writes: “How can I go on?”
    I am tempted to use nasty words – but will desist, and simply reply “very easily”.

  • EditorCT

    Speaking about “risk” – why do so few people know what homosexuals actually DO – and why is nobody talking about the health risks of the “gay” lifestyle?  Except, of course, “gays” themselves. Check it out.

  • EditorCT

    Yes, pity he didn’t study some of the very revealing sites giving the medical consequences of homosexual activity. Here’s one interesting report

    And here’s another (but only if you have a very strong stomach)

  • EditorCT

    Why on earth was my post moderated?  I never say anything that requires moderation. Well, I think we can kiss goodbye to the two links I’ve posted just now, giving some unpalatable facts about what homosexuals actually DO and the medical consequences.  Let’s not look at the facts – that’s bound to be “homophobic”.

    I’ll check back and if they are removed, I’ll stick with the Catholic Truth blog where there is no censorship at all – only bad language is removed.

  • EditorCT

    In light of what I have already said below about my post having been moderated, and remembering that Paul Hlsall’s entirely factual comment was also removed, I have to ask the Catholic Herald blog moderator if he or she realises that by suppressing the truth you are actually complicit in promoting this evil?  Reflect. 

  • M Rimmer

    The first article isn’t relevant at all and the 2nd one could be quite easily made up as it doesn’t discus how the data was collected, any confounders, oh and its not published and thus probably hasn’t been peer reviewed and os shouldn’t be given much weight at all. 

    Going back to the first one health trends such as smoking, alcohol and suicide ect do follow trends yes, but not just in homosexuals, doctors also have abnormally high smoking, alcohol consumption and suicide rates do you tarnish their lifestyles too? They should surly know better? Also people on lower incomes or social class 5 have higher rates of smoking and alcohol use and also interestingly schizophrenia rates too. 

    Also Im a student doctor, so I know what Im talking about.

  • Anukanti JC

    Is this happening? Oh Lord our God, the devil has taken over your church. If these were the visions of your son Jesus Christ, let them succeed, it not, like other self-professed saviours, may their missions fail…Amen

  • Anukanti JC

    Is this happening? Oh Lord our God, the devil has taken over your church. If these were the visions of your son Jesus Christ, let them succeed, it not, like other self-professed saviours, may their missions fail…Amen

  • Charles Martel

     I am a Catholic and I never had any problem talking about ‘sex’ or filling in the box next to it with ‘male’. The only time we talked about ‘gender’ was in Latin class. I absolutely refuse to accept that I have a ‘gender’. It’s something invented by mad Californian feminazis.

  • Jane Brady

    This is not a pleasant subject to address in The Catholic Herald so I would like to state briefly that heterosexual people do the same things as homosexuals, (use your imagination) and they encounter the same traumas and same diseases. As part of a post graduate course in tropical medicine I studied psychosexual disorders and sexually transmitted diseases. I can attest that is little difference in the statistics regarding the dilemmas incurred by homosexual and heterosexual patients. There is a plethora of information and statistics to show that all the scare mongering about same gender sex is frequently without foundation and is peddled by religious zealots and sanctimonious bigots.

  • James H

    “Let the rest of the country get on with its own choices.”

    Until one well-funded legal challenge declares that priests can be prosecuted for discrimination for refusing to ape a ‘marriage’ ceremony for a pair of gays. That’s when the live-and-let-live part will be found to be discriminatory, and we all know where this is going.

  • Anonymous

    If an essential function of marriage is ‘to create new life’, then surely the Church needs to re-evaluate its position on the marriage of post-menopausal women; couples with fertility issues; and the terminally ill.  Alternatively, the Church could acknowledge that ALL loving, committed relationships are a blessing to those involved and a benefit to society.

  • Roisin

    Why do you become upset? According to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church women are disenfranchised from holding any significant role in the church. Women are deemed not to be good enough and in medieval times, not clean enough, which was the real reason for excluding them. Yet you fight ‘tooth and nail’ for an organisation that rejects you female dignity and your denies your ability to attain the same holiness as a man. Why the hell do you do it?

  • EditorCT

    This is one of the daftest arguments repeatedly put forward by proponents of “gay” marriage.  Absolutely  so ridiculous that I won’t waste time stating the obvious fact that menopause is in the right, natural order of things.  Women who contracept are abusing their marriage (not to mention their bodies) but not women who either cannot have children (something they wouldn’t know until after marriage) or who have reached that natural stage when women cannot have children.  Does not change the fact that marriage is primarily for the procreation of children, as well as ordered to the lifelong companionship of the man and woman who marry.

    Oops! I did state the obvious, after all.  Silly me.  But not have as silly as those who think they’ve struck gold with that stupid argument about sterile and menopausal women. Get a grip.

  • EditorCT

    Wrong.  Normal couples do NOT do the same things as homosexuals.  We are discussing the issue of why the media are censoring this subject, over at the Catholic Truth blog where I’ve posted a couple of articles on the subject. NOT to discuss the obscene acts described there, note, but to talk about why the media are suppressing this information. Among all the “gay” propaganda, there is never any mention of what they actually DO.  No wonder.

  • Beth A

    The irony of course is that this is simply espousing prejudice and hatred. I’m not homosexual, or specifically lesbian, but in time we will come to see what disgusting prejudice this truly is.

    Hang your heads in shame.

  • Paul Halsall

    In fact, with the recent attacks by the RC church leaders in the UK there is probably some real difference.  Cardinal O’Brian in Scotland is a first class bigot.  Archbishop Nichols isn’t – and has very recently re-approved the masses for the LGBT community twice a month in Soho (look up Soho Masses).  In a sense, this letter seems to be a way of covering his ass for that decision.   

    Also, he probably wants to be a cardinal – all his predecessors at Westminister have been – so once again this is also a  c.y.a approach.

  • Paul Halsall

    Actually, aren’t you technically a schismatic?

  • Mark Castilano

    Please explain clearly and concisely to me: I am a heterosexual male, and I engage in the same kind of activity with women that a lesbian might also engage in. Am I committing sin, and if so why? I do not hang my head in shame. I would like to know your answer.

  • EditorCT

    What on EARTH makes you think I’m upset?  Get a grip.

    As for your remarks about the Catholic Church (it’s not the “Roman Catholic” Church unless you are speaking about the Diocese of Rome) they are just so far off the wall that I’ve no intention of answering.  The true teaching of the Church is easily available so if you persist in repeating falsehoods, you are demonstrating your own wilful preference for lies over truth.

  • Jane Brady

    You were quite right with “Silly me” (Freudian slip). What you write may be relevant to a few “dyed in the wool” Catholics, but essentially no really cares what you write or think. The Roman Catholic Church has had it’s say, and it has had it’s day. So you had better pray !!

  • Jane Brady

    There is no need because we all do the same thing, and it is great fun. So why do you want to spell out things like fellatio, cunnilingus, and anal penetration, so what is all the fuss about. Just have fun !

  • EditorCT

    A tad judgmental and shows lack of knowledge of Cardinal O’Brien’s previous statement that he had no problem with partnered “gays” teaching in Catholic schools. Hardly a “bigoted” attitude.  But waken up and smell the free speech you’re always blethering on about. To disapprove of something people do doesn’t mean you hate the person (which is implicit in “bigot”).  I presume you disapprove of murderers and thieves but I sincerely hope you don’t harbour any personal hatred for them.

    By the way, to the person who objected to my putting inverted commas round the word “gay” be aware that it’s either that or be called “sodomites” – without the inverted commas.  Because I object to the stealing of a beautiful word like “gay” from the English language.   The “gay” lobby knew that they would never get public opinion to buy into “gay” rights if they continued to be described as sodomites so they had to find another label.  I use the term in its proper meaning – “all the world is gay” (meaning everyone’s happy) but when used outside of its proper meaning, like every other word used outside of its proper meaning, I impose inverted commas – and will continue to do so.  

  • EditorCT

    So, it’s not true what they say about tolerance and diversity, after all.  I kinda guessed that.  You agree with the “gay” lifestyle or you take the consequences, one of which is to be relentlessly insulted by the anything but tolerant “gays”.

    I’m not sure why you are so determined to post on a Catholic blog but you should at least educate yourself sufficiently to know the name of the Church you are attacking

  • EditorCT

    I did not spell out anything. 

    All the research shows that abnormal and dangerous sexual behaviour is inherent in “what homosexuals do”.  That’s quite different from sick men and women who engage in perverted acts – the perverted acts are not inherent in normal sexual intercourse.

    Your readiness to write in the uncouth, manner that you have done, clearly comfortable with impurity, is an outcome of sexual licence. 

    My question was why is the media suppressing the facts about the inherently obscene nature of homosexual activity. Answer: because public approval of the “gay” lifestyle would disappear overnight.

  • Beth A

    Of course you’re not committing sin, no. Your relationship with whomever you choose should be celebrated and respected just the same as all relationships. I don’t think you should hang your head in shame unless you are indeed prejudiced towards people in same-sex relationships.

  • Isaac Lazarus

    Not one bit, I just love the music. I can recite every word of Latin and sing every bit of The Gloria, The Credo, The Preface, The Sanctus, Pater Noster and the rest. Most of your Catholics could not do that. You can label me whatever you like, I don’t care.

  • EditorCT

    Only the most ignorant people can still labour under the delusion that the SSPX is “schismatic.”
     In his statement lifting the unjust excommunications imposed on the four SSPX bishops, Pope Benedict admits the injustice. Read his statement carefully.  He’s lifting excommunications which he knows perfeclty well should never have been imposed.

    It’s laughable to think that bishops could be excommunicated for the crime of preserving the ancient Mass while the likes of Nichols’ permission and support for Masses for partnered homosexuals and “transgender” people is tolerated and (if we believe the organisers) approved by the Pope himself. Laughable in the extreme.

  • Matt

    What a spiteful person you are. Sending all homosexuals to ‘hell’ because of your beliefs. You read a book, called The Bible, and somehow expect to have a kind of privilege over other people – especially over homosexuals. Well guess what, you don’t. And guess what, homosexuals aren’t going to hell, IF it exists (which is probably doesn’t). Typing this without swearing profusely was hard, because ignorant, self-interested people like you just really get on my nerves.

  • Jane Brady

    I was educated by the Irish Sisters of Mercy of Magdalene Laundries fame, up to the age of eighteen years…. I will take no lessons from you about Roman catholic morality or anything else…. You studied theology at Aberdeen University and by repute you fancy yourself as a direct agent of Almighty God…. However, the Catholic Church deems you, ‘a mere woman’ to be socially inferior and totally unsuitable to carry out the work of Jesus Christ, and they treat you as a complete mug. I would never allow myself to be humiliated and treated by the Roman Catholic Church with such indignity.

  • Roisin

    Very well, please guide me so that I my understand. Please correct my errors. Rather than answering in riddles please give a clear discourse about your point of view without expressing your intemperate tendencies. I am keen to learn as to why you serve people you think you are inferior and unsuitable to celebrate holy mass. Please give a cogent answer without resorting to your usual invective.

  • EditorCT

    Well, the Irish Sisters of Mercy didn’t educate you well enough if you don’t know that the “Roman” was added by Protestant Reformers in the16th century because they wanted to reduce Christ’s Church to but one “branch” of Christendom. Their new man-made (by a dissident Catholic priest) “church” had to be given its place!  Nowhere, absolutely NOWHERE does the Church describe herself as “Roman” unless referring to the Holy Roman Church in the Diocese of Rome.

    It always makes me smile when people slip in little bits of “information” about me (more often than not completely fabricated) as if it makes any difference to the argument, but if it makes you feel good, hey, I don’t mind! I’ve studied theology plenty of places, Sugar Plum. But if you think Aberdeen is the best choice, good for you. 

    I’ve never been deemed a “mere” woman by “the Church” and I’ve absolutely no time for all that feminist claptrap. Wouldn’t insult my intelligence by giving it the time of day. Suggest you grow out of it asap.  

  • Custardo

    “It would reduce it just to the commitment of the two people involved. There would be no recognition of the complementarity of male and female or that marriage is intended for the procreation and education of children”
    1) What is wrong with celebrating the commitment of two people.
    2) Why is marriage just about pro-creation?
    3) Why can’t Gay couples raise children?
    4) what would Jesus do?

    1) Nothing – its brilliant and if two people marry and they can’t or don’t want to have children – this isn’t a ‘reduction’ it takes a huge amount to commit for life. A priest should know this
    2) This is rooted deep within history and is all about power and property.  it holds little value today, this view harms the church and shows them to be short sighted.
    3) they can, successfully and studies show usually Gay relationships are far more stable and last longer
    4) He would hang his head and weep at the exclusivity and rules imposed in his name.

  • Dave Corrigan

    All marriage as history proves, is to do with equity. Priests are required to remain single for reasons of equity, and nothing else….. Clerical celibacy has nothing to do with sanctity, it has to do with church property and church money, and nothing else…. The Catholic church did not mind if priests engaged in carnal desires with women or boys so long as it did not cost the church anything in terms of sharing property. However they got it badly wrong, to the extent of several millions of dollars, and there is worse to come..

  • Jane Brady

    You do not have a credible Alma Mater and you invent theology as you go along. ….No respectable academic would ever resort to such facile and feeble arguments that do not have one ounce of credibility…. If you were a true graduate of theology you would be able to present a more cogent argument about doctrine…. Your bigoted knowledge is highly questionable and you do not represent the true tenets of the Roman Catholic Church of Jesus Christ

  • EditorCT

    Here endeth the lesson!

    If you think I’m going to supply you with my personal history/biography, you can think again, chum.

    Noticeably, you just cannot resist serious name calling me all the time – a sure sign of frustration and weakness. I mean, nobody minds a bit of fun, but you are seriously troubled to go about the place calling me “bigoted” and that I “invent theology” (? examples please?) etc.

    God bless.  

  • EditorCT

    Nothing intemperate about my responses.  Are you seriously telling me that you do not know the reasons given by the Catholic Church for not ordaining women? 

    Nor do you provide any evidence that the Church teaches that women are inferior.  Pope Paul VI described Our Lady as “the highest honour of our race” – hardly evidence that women are considered inferior within the Church. That example could be multiplied down the centuries with a number of women declared Doctors of the Church – even in medieval times when the secular world would not have given women any such similar honour.  Again, in earlier times, when seculars treated women very differently from men (which doesn’t really mean they were treated badly – that’s all feminist claptrap) but still, even then, the Church encouraged women to set up their own religious houses, appoint superiors, always women, finance them through the work they undertook and so on.  Hardly, as I say, evidence that the Church treats women as inferior.

    And speaking of Religious Life, are men “inferior” because they cannot be nuns? Then why should women be inferior because they can’t be priests?

    Stop believing the stupid propaganda and think for yourself.  Or, put another way, wake up and smell the truth.

  • Guest

    Why, why why do people think that homosexual people are so different from us? I am currently studying these topics, and I feel the need to say one thing:
    It says in the Bible that ‘we are all made in God’s image’, so therefore, what are gay people?
    Answer: exactly the same as we are. I am sick to death of people being discriminative and prejudiced – which people is a SIN in itself… yes, yes.
    Who are we to judge other people for who they are and will always be? I thought that God was the only one who could judge, and that judging someone was… oh sorry, what’s that again? Oh, yes. A SIN.
    I rest my case.

  • Guest

    Thank you! Finally someone is actually getting it!

  • EditorCT

    People who want to have a sexual relationship with another person of the same sex, is going against God’s will, God’s plan for human beings.

    People who want to have sexual relationships with animals – ditto.

    People who want to have sexual relationships with siblings – ditto

    All of the above groups actively seek normalisation/acceptance of their sexual “preference”.

    It is no more being “judgmental” and “discriminative” to object to same sex relationships than it is to object to the other two unnatural behaviours on the list.

    Or maybe you have no problem with any of the above sexual behaviours? 

    Yes, God made us all in His own image and likeness, but that does not mean he approves of everything we do.  We do not always ACT like we’re made in God’s image and likeness, hence the importance of the Sacrament of Penance to receive absolution and a fresh start. God cannot ever approve of wrongdoing, whether it be robbing banks, murdering your granny or misusing His gift of sexuality.