The Church and the Legal Recognition of Homosexual Unions

This article is the final installment of a five-part series written by Fr Linus Clovis.  It should be read in the context of his previous posts on Same Sex Attraction.  You can read the previous parts to this series by following these links:  Homosexual Struggle; Categories of Homosexuality; Same Sex Attraction:  A Catholic Perspective, Homosexuality is Destructive to the Individual and Society. 

The Catholic Church is the only institution that can and has confronted and challenged the presuppositions of the ideological constructs on which modern secular society is built.  This becomes more evident as the media, universities, governmental and international bodies such as the UN and legislatures push an agenda calling for homosexual marriages.

It is true that private individuals and many religious communities are and have opposed this call but their stance is generally on grounds of faith which, of course, has no traction with non-believers.  This is not to deny that there are also secular bodies and non-believers who see the call for same sex marriage as the iceberg on which the social Titanic might well founder.

The Catholic Church, basing her argument firmly on the twin pillars of divine Revelation and the Natural Law that is written on every human heart (Rom.1:20), issued a document in 2003, entitled Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons.  In §2, the Church noted that, since the Creator has established marriage with its own nature, essential properties and purpose,

“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.”

Thus, the Church proclaims the certainty that no ideology can ever abrogate what God has imprinted in the human nature to the extent that humanity would doubt that marriage could be anything other than between a man and a woman.  She also espouses the altruism of the personal gift of self to the other that bears fruit in the emergence of another and utterly new being, who is so alike and yet different.

Mining the rich deposits of Revelation, the Church discerns in the creation account of Genesis the three fundamental elements that constitute a true marriage.

The first is sexual complementarity where each sex supplies to the other those things the other lacks.  Man who is created in the image of God, was created “male and female” (Gen 1:27), so that men and women are equal as persons and complementary as male and female. Sexuality is something that pertains to the physical-biological realm yet, it has been raised in human beings to a new level – the personal level – where nature and spirit are united.

The second is the formation of a new community.  The Creator instituted marriage as a form of social life in which by use of the sexual faculty a communion of persons is achieved. This truth is expressed in the declaration “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and they become one flesh” (Gen2:24).

The third element of a true marriage is that of fecundity, in as much as God has willed to give the union of man and woman a special participation in his work of creation. Thus, he blessed the man and the woman with the words “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). Therefore, in the Creator’s plan, sexual complementarity and fruitfulness, whether potential or actual, belong to the very nature of marriage.

Furthermore, Christ elevated the marital union of man and woman to the dignity of a sacrament, so that Christian marriage might be efficacious sign of the covenant between Christ and the Church as is expounded in the Letter to the Ephesians (5:32).

The document concludes that, in light of the constitutive elements of marriage, there “are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”   The two cannot even be compared since homosexual acts not only “do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity” but they actually “close the sexual act to the gift of life.” Additionally, given the sacredness of human life and the Creator’s blessing upon its font, the contrast between the holiness of marriage and homosexual acts, going as they do against the Natural Law, is stark and consequently, “under no circumstances can they be approved.” §4

There is a radical difference between homosexual behaviour as a private phenomenon and the same behaviour as a foreseen and lawfully approved relationship in society where it becomes one of the institutions in the legal structure.  The Church in addressing the issue of the legal recognition of homosexual unions notes that “civil laws are structuring principles of man’s life in society, for good or for ill.”   Law is an ordinance according to reason promulgated by one in authority for the common good.  Basically, this means that to be just and therefore lawful and valid, a law cannot benefit a minority at the expense of the majority.  Further, as the document notes laws “play a very important and sometimes decisive role in influencing patterns of thought and behaviour.”

There is therefore reason to be concerned when the institution of marriage, which is available to every man and woman, is tampered with to accommodate the lifestyle choices of a few, that is, less than 2% of the population.  The law is also didactic to the extent that, in general, people conform not only their external behaviour but also their attitudes, values and opinions to them, which in turn impacts on the wider society.  Again the document neatly sums this up in §6 as

“Lifestyles and the underlying presuppositions these express not only externally shape the life of society, but also tend to modify the younger generation’s perception and evaluation of forms of behaviour.  Legal recognition of homosexual unions would obscure certain basic moral values and cause a devaluation of the institution of marriage.”

The continued existence of the human race, as with every other species on earth depends absolutely and uniquely on procreation and so, from both a biological and anthropological perspective, the homosexual lifestyle is untenable since “such unions are not able to contribute in a proper way to the procreation and survival of the human race.” §7  Further, the document continues “Society owes its continued survival to the family, founded on marriage” and the “legal recognition of homosexual unions would redefine marriage by disassociating it from the procreation and raising of children to the grave detriment to the common good.” §8.

The State’s interest in marriage arises from its concern for the rearing of children on which its own future depends.  Thus, despite the fact that some couples are infertile, or have no intention of having a family, the State has always heavily regulated marriage, for the very simple reason that stable families are beneficial to it. So historically, whether for the tribe or for the most sophisticated state, marriage had very little to do with love or sex, and everything to do with society’s stability.

The strong link between marriage and procreation, however, has been broken with the advent of the contraceptive pill and its accessories.  The downplaying of the procreative aspect of marriage has resulted in the happiness of the married couple, rather than the good of the children or of the social order, becoming marriage’s primary end, with disastrous consequences. When married persons care more about themselves than their responsibilities to their children and society, they become more willing to abandon these responsibilities, leading to broken homes, a plummeting birth-rate, and countless other social pathologies that have become rampant over the last 40 years. Homosexual marriage is not the cause for any of these pathologies, but it will exacerbate them, as the granting of marital benefits to a category of sexual relationships that are necessarily sterile can only widen the separation between marriage and procreation.

From a legal aspect, the Church points out that “because married couples ensure the succession of generations and are therefore eminently within the public interest, civil law grants them institutional recognition.” §9   Homosexual unions, however, do not contribute to the future and so, in the final analysis, State recognition would merely “sacrifice the common good and just laws on the family in order to protect personal goods.”

The greatest danger homosexual civil marriage presents is the enshrining into law the notion that sexual love, regardless of its fecundity, is the sole criterion for marriage. If the State must recognize a marriage of two men simply because they love one another, upon what basis can it deny marital recognition to a group of two men and three women, for example, or a brother and sister who claim to love each other? Homosexual activists protest that they only want equal treatment for all couples. But why is sexual love between two people more worthy of State sanction than love between three, or five? When the purpose of marriage is procreation, the answer is obvious. If sexual love becomes the primary purpose, the restriction of marriage to couples loses its logical basis, leading to marital chaos.

The Church’s teaching on the Legal Recognition of Homosexual Unions is expressed in the conclusion that states

“respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.  The common good requires that laws recognize, promote and protect marriage as the basis of the family, the primary unit of society.  Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behaviour, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity.  The Church cannot fail to defend these values, for the good of men and women and for the good of society itself.” §11

A person is more than his or her sexuality.  The Church, recognising that sexuality is an essential part of the person but not the sole defining element of the person, tells us authoritatively that “the human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation.”

Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a “heterosexual” or a “homosexual” and insists that every person has a fundamental identity: the creature of God, and by grace, His child and heir to eternal life.

Documents issued by Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:

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