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Bishop Kennedy’s pastoral statement on “same-sex marriage”, issued in July, discussed the major challenges the Catholic Church, individual Catholics and society face if the law in marriage is changed.
The Catholic Church firmly believes and teaches that every human being is a unique and irreplaceable person, created in the image of God and loved by God.
Because of this, every man, woman, and child has great dignity and worth which can never be taken away. This naturally includes those who experience same-sex attraction who must be treated with respect, sensitivity, and love.
The Church’s pastoral approach to people with same-sex attraction is consistent with official Church teaching as found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 2357-2359).
It states that persons who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies do not choose their homosexual condition, noting that its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained.
They are called to live chastely, and with the support of friends and the grace of God they can and should grow in Christian perfection.
Whilst noting that homosexual acts are disordered and contrary to the natural law insofar as they close the sexual act to the gift of life and do not proceed from a genuine sexual complementarity, homosexual men and women must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity, and every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.
Marriage is not unjust discrimination
Maintaining marriage as being only between a man and a woman is not unjust discrimination. Treating different things differently is not unjust: it is common sense.
And the union of a man and woman as husband and wife is a different thing to a same-sex union.
Those who wish to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples do so, I suspect, because they desire all the “goods” of marriage: delight in each other and delight in children. They want a stable, sexual, and exclusive relationship and the opportunity to raise children they can call their own.
Opposing same -sex “marriage” can thus appear to be somewhat heartless.
But the fundamental question remains: Do these different types of relationships share equivalence: Are they the same thing or are they different?
The linkage point that unites a man and a woman in marriage is precisely their difference. Their spiritual, physical, psychological, and sexual difference gives them a “goodness of fit” with each other, and their union makes them whole, and together they beget flesh of their flesh.
They share the sameness of humanity but enjoy the difference of their masculinity and femininity. The difficulty for same-sex couples is precisely their sameness.
It renders the most fundamental ingredient of a marriage null and void, namely, difference.
The importance of marriage and family
The Catholic Church cares deeply about marriage because it is a fundamental good in itself and foundational to human existence and flourishing.
Marriage is a personal relationship, but it is not a private one. Governments everywhere recognise marriage and give it privileged status because it plays a crucial role in society and has public significance and consequences.
Marriage joins distinct families into one, fostering greater communion between people. Each marriage is also the foundation of a new family often referred to as the “cell” or foundation of society.
Further, in modelling love and communion, in welcoming and raising new life, by taking care of the weak, sick, and aged, marriage and families provide the social stability necessary for the future.
The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is the lifelong partnership of mutual and exclusive fidelity between a man and a woman ordered by its very nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and upbringing of children.
Because of their sexual difference, husband and wife can truly become “one flesh” and can give to each other the reality of children who are a living reflection of their love.
No other relationship, no matter how loving or committed, can have this unique type of communion that exists between a husband and wife. Being “male” and “female” are equal yet distinct bodily ways of being human.
In marriage, this complementarity of husband and wife is expressed very clearly in the act of conjugal love, in having children, and in fathering and mothering, actions that call for the collaboration and unique gifts of husband and wife.
The fact that some married couples do not have children is the exception that does not invalidate, but rather proves the rule. The fact remains that marriage between a man and a woman will usually result in children.
Only a man and a woman are able to conceive a child through each other, without the intervention of a third person.
The importance of mothers and fathers
The fact is that every single child has a biological mother and father. But their importance goes far beyond biology. Men and women bring unique gifts to the shared task of parenting, that is, of fathering and mothering.
Only a woman can be a mother. Only a man can be a father. Each contributes in a distinct and unique way to the upbringing of children.
Respecting a child’s dignity means affirming his or her need for, and right to, a mother and a father. The Church acknowledges the difficulties faced by single parents and seeks to support them in their often heroic response to meet the needs of their children.
There is a big difference, however, between dealing with the unintended reality of single parenthood and approving the formation of “alternative families” that deliberately deprive a child of a father or a mother.
We sometimes hear of studies saying that children do just fine with two mums or two dads. There are likewise studies saying they don’t, even though they may not receive equal media attention.
Sadly, too many married couples today are falling short in their responsibilities toward their children. This is not a reason to change marriage, but the time for all of society to co-operate in affirming and building up marriage to what it should be, since a healthy society depends on healthy households, of which strong and stable marriage is the traditional foundation.
The needs of children must not take a back-seat to the satisfaction of adult desires. We are kidding ourselves if we pretend changing marriage won’t have an impact on children.
Other consequences of same-sex “marriage”
Beyond the effect on children, redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships will have far reaching consequences in society.
The law shapes people's attitudes and the way people think.
So if marriage is redefined to include same-sex couples, people may well be encouraged to think that: marriage is only about adults romantic fulfilment; that mothers and fathers are wholly interchangeable; that gender is inconsequential; that sterile homosexual conduct is equal in value and worthy of the same social and legal protection as fertile heterosexual conduct; and that people who adhere to the perennial and natural definition of marriage are bigots who must answer to the law for their alleged bigotry.
Further, changing the legal definition of marriage is not just one change in the law, but would result in hundreds, if not thousands, of changes at once.
The term “marriage” is found in family law, employment law, trusts and estates, healthcare law, tax law, property law, and many others.
These laws effect and regulate the lives of individuals and families as well as the functioning of religious churches, schools, hospitals, and more. Whether or not religious ministers are to officiate at same-sex “weddings” is just the tip of the iceberg.
Such a change to the law would compel everyone – even those opposed in conscience to the notion of same-sex “marriage”, to treat these relationships as equal to marriage in every respect.
Some real examples
A few actual examples that have already occurred overseas are: a Catholic College in Massachusetts forced to offer accommodation to same-sex couples; the revoking of licences from Catholic adoption agencies in the UK, Massachusetts, and Washington DC for not placing children with same-sex couples; and Catholic charities in Portland having to extend spousal employment benefits to same sex partners.
Then there is the inability of parents to opt their children out of sex-education classes in Canada which teach homosexuality and heterosexuality equally.
Does anybody seriously believe similar situations would not arise in Australia? And does anybody seriously believe that any so-called “religious exemptions” could not later be removed with the stroke of a pen?
Public opinion and surveys
The media often report that a majority of people support same-sex “marriage”. But I ask the average man and woman: What is your view? How many people do you know for whom this is an important issue?
Beyond certain sections of the media and the small but influential groups that lobby our politicians, there seems to be a lack of support for this issue around family kitchen tables and from the average person on the street. So why is it being pursued?
We are often told that 10% of the population are homosexual. This figure is based on the fundamentally flawed work of Alfred Kinsey in the 1940s and 1950s. More recent and accurate surveys place the figure between 0.3% and 3%.
The largest social survey ever produced by the UK Office of National Statistics involving nearly half a million people and conducted from 2010 to 2011 found that 1.5% of the population identified themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
The small proportion of same-sex partners currently have almost all of the same social benefits of married couples.
Why then force such a massive change to our law and society with so many social risks when there is no real need?
Time to act
The word “marriage” isn’t simply a label that can be attached to different types of relationships. However much we may feel for those unable to marry, we cannot simply change what marriage naturally is, to replace it with an arbitrary construct such as “same-sex marriage”.
Those who argue for the preservation of marriage traditionally understood do not set out to belittle people with same-sex attraction. We simply point out that same-sex relationships are not the same thing as marriage.
I urge you to exercise your civic right and duty and make your views known to your local Member of Parliament. This is not about making judgments about the worth and value of individual human beings. It is about recognising the true importance of marriage and the rights of children.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 28 No 9 (October 2015), p. 1
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