From the perspective of Catholic teaching, “same-sex marriage” is a contradiction in terms. Marriage can only exist between a man and a woman, not between persons of the same sex. This is a truth given by God in the natural order of creation and then confirmed through his revealed word in the Bible. It is a truth recognized by human reason and strengthened by faith.
Marriage comes to us from the hand of God. It does not originate from the state or the church, though both institutions regulate its practice. Therefore, neither church nor state can alter the meaning and structure of marriage in such a way as to grant equivalent status to same-sex unions.
- Why does the Catholic Church teach that marriage can exist only between a man and a woman?
- Why can marriage exist only between a man and a woman?
- Why is a same-sex union not equivalent to a marriage?
- What unique contributions does marriage between a man and woman make to society?
- Ideas about marriage have changed over the years. Isn’t same sex marriage just one more change?
- If people of the same sex love and care for each other, why shouldn’t they be allowed to marry?
- What difference would it make to married couples if same sex partners are allowed to marry?
- Isn’t the Church discriminating against homosexual persons by opposing same sex unions?
- What is the Church’s position on legislation to allow civil unions or domestic partnerships?
- Why are the U.S. bishops supporting a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban same sex marriage?
Marriage, as both a natural institution and a sacred union, is rooted in the divine plan for creation. The fact that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman is a truth woven deeply into the human spirit. The Church’s teaching on marriage expresses a truth, therefore, that can be perceived first and foremost by human reason.
This truth has been confirmed by divine Revelation in Sacred Scripture. In Scripture we see that marriage comes from the loving hand of God, who fashioned both male and female in the divine image, and who blesses their joining as one flesh and commands them to be fertile and to multiply. The Bible frequently uses the image of marriage to teach about the loving relationship between God and his people. In instituting the Sacrament of Matrimony, Jesus made marriage a symbol of his unconditional love for the Church. The Christian meaning of marriage confirms and strengthens the human value of a loving and life-giving marital union.
The natural structure of human sexuality makes man and woman complementary partners for expressing conjugal love and for transmitting human life. Only a union of male and female can express the sexual complementarity willed by God for marriage. This unique complementarity makes possible the conjugal bond that is the core of marriage. The permanent and exclusive commitment of marriage is the necessary context for the expression of sexual love intended by God both to serve the transmission of human life and to build up the bond between husband and wife.
A same-sex union contradicts the nature and purposes of marriage. It is not based on the natural complementarity of male and female. It cannot cooperate with God to create new life; and the natural purpose of sexual union cannot be achieved by a same-sex union. Because persons in a same-sex union cannot enter into a true conjugal union, it is wrong to equate their relationship to a marriage.
Marriage is the fundamental pattern for male-female relationships. It contributes to society because it models the way in which women and men live interdependently and commit, for the whole of life, to seek the good of each other. The marital union also provides the best conditions for raising children: namely, the stable, loving relationship of a mother and father present only in marriage. The state rightly recognizes this relationship as a public institution in its laws because the relationship makes a unique and essential contribution to the common good.
Pope Benedict XVI recently said of marriage: “To recognize and assist this institution is one of the greatest services that can be rendered nowadays to the common good and to the authentic development of individuals and societies, as well as the best means of ensuring the dignity, equality and true freedom of the human person” (Homily at the Concluding Mass of the Fifth World Meeting of Families, July 9, 2006).
The institution of marriage has experienced many developments. Some of these are related to our contemporary understanding about the equality of men and women. These developments have enhanced marriage, but none has conflicted with the basic purpose and nature of marriage. Proposals to legalize same sex marriage would radically redefine marriage.
Love and commitment are key ingredients of marriage, and the Church recognizes that a basic purpose of marriage is the good of the spouses. The other purpose, however, is the procreation and education of children. There is a fundamental difference between marriage, which has the potential to bring forth children, and other relationships. The fact that marriage between a man and a woman will usually result in children remains a powerful human reality, even if circumstances do not prmit every marriage to result in children. This makes marriage between a man and a woman a unique institution.
We need to answer this question not simply as individuals, but as members of society, called to work for the common good. If same sex marriage were legalized, the result would be a significant change in our society. We would be saying that the primary purpose of marriage is to validate and protect a sexually intimate relationship. All else would be secondary. While we cannot say exactly what the impact of this change would be, experience suggests that it would be negative. Marriage would no longer symbolize society’s commitment to the future: our children. Rather, marriage would symbolize a commitment to the present needs and desires of adults.
To uphold God’s intent for marriage, in which sexual relations have their proper and exclusive place, is not to offend the dignity of homosexual persons. Christians must give witness to the whole truth and, therefore, oppose as immoral both homosexual acts and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons.
It is not unjust to deny legal status to same-sex unions because marriage and same-sex unions are essentially different realities. In fact, justice requires society to do so.
The legal recognition of marriage, including benefits associated with it, is not only about personal commitment, but also about the social commitment that husband and wife make to the well-being of society. It would be wrong to redefine marriage for the sake of providing benefits to those who cannot rightfully enter into marriage. It should be noted that some benefits currently sought by persons in homosexual unions can already be obtained without regard to marital status. For example, individuals can agree to own property jointly, and they can generally designate anyone they choose to be a beneficiary of their will or to make health care decisions in case they become incompetent.
On two different occasions, in 2003 and 2006, the USCCB Administrative Committee stated: “We strongly oppose any legislative and judicial attempts, both at state and federal levels, to grant same-sex unions the equivalent status and rights of marriage – by naming them marriage, civil unions, or by other means.”
In 2003 a statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated: “Every humanly-created law is legitimate insofar as it is consistent with the natural moral law, recognized by right reason, and insofar as it respects the inalienable rights of every person. Laws in favor of homosexual unions are contrary to right reason because they confer legal guarantees, analogous to those granted to marriage, to unions between persons of the same sex” (Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons, n.6).
The bishops are supporting an amendment that simply defines marriage as only the union of a man and a woman. They are doing so because they want to bear witness to a truth that is given by God in the natural order of creation and that is confirmed by divine Revelation in the Bible. Protecting marriage in this way will benefit children, families, and the common good of society itself.
In addition, many states have adopted similar amendments to their constitutions and others are preparing to place a proposal on the ballot. The USCCB Administrative Committee has urged bishops to lead a two-pronged strategy of education and advocacy in favor of laws and constitutional amendments that define and protect at both state and federal levels.