There is a significant issue facing Canadian society today that will also have an impact on the Christian church. For the last number of years, Canadian courts have ruled that marriage, recognized under the common law as “the union of one man and one woman” is inconsistent with constitutional values in modern Canadian society and offends the equality rights of homosexuals under section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Two of the courts acknowledged the unique role of Parliament in formulating a proper response to this question. They gave the federal and provincial legislatures until June 2004 to rectify the situation. In order to accomplish this, a parliamentary task force toured the country to gather ideas and wisdom from the people of Canada. On June 10, however, the Ontario Court of Appeal acted unilaterally. It pre-empted further discussion by Parliament by striking down the common law definition of marriage and reformulating it as "the voluntary union for life of two persons." The court ordered that this remedy take effect immediately.
Since then, the government has written legislation to enact this change. In so doing, they are changing the traditional definition of marriage. Instead of marriage being defined as the exclusive union of one man and one woman, it will be changed to the voluntary union of two persons, opening the door for all kinds of relationships being defined as marriage, including homosexual relationships. That legislation has not yet been passed, but is in process.
At the same time, there is also other legislation that deals with including sexual orientation in the hate crimes laws. If this legislation passes, it could become illegal to say that homosexuality is sin.
If these become law and are not challenged in the Supreme Court or struck down by parliament, it could have serious implications for us as Canadians, many of which we do not yet understand. It will certainly have implications for us as Christians. At this point, the government is assuring us that our religious rights will be protected, but if we as churches are forced to solemnize homosexual marriages, or if it will be against the law to say that homosexuality is sin, we will have to face the likelihood of civil disobedience and its consequences. At a time like this, it is important for us to renew our Biblical understanding of marriage, recognize what the Bible has to say about homosexuality and think together about how we can respond to the current situation. That is what I want to do this morning.
I. Biblical Definition Of Marriage
Part of the issue has to do with the traditional definition of marriage. Biblically this is very clear and we need to remind ourselves of that Biblical truth.
A. God’s Idea
In a statement made by the Canadian Conference of Catholic bishops, they included the saying, “Marriage understood as the lasting union of a man and woman to the exclusion of others pre-exists the State.” I would agree with that statement. In fact, from the Bible we understand that marriage as the union of a man and a woman for life is God’s idea right at creation. In Genesis, we see that God created human beings as male and female. He gave them the command in Genesis 1:28 to "Be fruitful and multiply." Then in Genesis 2, in an expanded statement about having created them male and female, we read in verse 24, "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and they become one flesh."
Marriage as an institution in which a man and a woman become one flesh is rooted in creation, it is founded in the plan of God.
That understanding of marriage does not change as we go to the New Testament. Jesus reinforced what was there from the beginning. In Matthew 19:3-12 and in Mark 10:6-9, Jesus pointed to the texts in Genesis and affirmed once again that marriage is for one man and one woman, for life and that in marriage they become one flesh.
The apostle Paul spoke and wrote in the pagan society of Corinth. It was a society in which homosexual relationships were quite common. Even though that society accepted them as normal, Paul continued to uphold the Biblical standard that marriage is the union of a man and a woman for life in a one flesh relationship.
As we read any of the marriage texts, whether Jesus or Paul or anywhere else in the Bible, we find that there are only two options. Kaiser in Hard Sayings Of The Bible says, Jesus… “gave people only two alternatives: faithful marriage or celibacy.” He goes on to say, “Turning to Paul, we find the same alternatives offered. In 1 Corinthians 6:9–20 he rules out “sexual immorality” by which he means sexual intercourse with a person who is not one’s spouse, especially a prostitute. He makes the alternative clear in 1 Corinthians 7:9 : if one does not have the gift of celibacy, then one should marry.”
God’s will is clear. Marriage is for one man and one woman in a union which forms a life long, one flesh relationship.
B. Reason For Marriage.
Why is this so and why is it so important?
When God instituted marriage in Genesis 2, the phrase that is used is “the two shall become one flesh.” The concept of one flesh expresses a relationship that is unique and cannot be expressed in any other union. It is relational, physical, social, economic. It is a relationship that uniquely bonds male and female. It expresses the free consent of man and woman to live together. Although we see all kinds of aberrations, it is universally recognized when a man and a woman make a covenant to live together that there is no other bond that is like that bond. Although there are all kinds of other relationships, there is no relationship that expresses all the different aspects of the one flesh relationship that defines marriage. There is no other relationship that unites male an female in such a unique bond. One writer says, “Marriage serves the vast and complex social-sexual ecology of male-female bonding.
Secondly, it is only in the relationship of male and female from which children can come. One group writing in defence of marriage says, “a man and a woman is the only social union that can be a reproductive union.” To give up the uniqueness of that relationship degrades the importance and uniqueness of the male female relationship in procreating.
As male and female is the only union from which children can come, it also provides the only appropriate setting for raising children. Although single parents, adoptive parents and grandparents sometimes raise children and do it well, it is most natural and best when the couple who begets children is also the couple who raises those children. Another group defending marriage writes that it is “the birth-right of children to know, to be connected to, and to be in stable relationship with, their natural parents.” “Marriage, as an institution, has a child-centred dimension; it directs mothers and fathers to the care and support of their children.”
It is also only such a relationship that connects the generations. Someone has said,
“Marriage is generational and genealogical; it binds together the past and the future.”
One group, and I don’t think it is a Christian group, has written that if the definition of marriage is changed, “it imposes a new and disputed ideology of ‘close relationships’ upon marriage. On this view marriage (for legal purposes) is reduced to the public recognition of committed relationships between two adults. This theory bleaches out the significance of sexual difference and dismisses any "rational connection" between marriage, gender complementarity, procreation, and the rearing of children by their biological parents. It renders a very pale concept of marriage with a doubtful claim on the public interest.”
As Christians, we recognize God’s truth and need to affirm once again that we believe in marriage as "the voluntary and lawful union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others."
II. Response To Homosexuality
Behind the issue and related to it is the issue of homosexuality. Therefore, we need to examine Scripture and affirm once again what the Bible has to say about this aspect of the issue.
A. It Is Sin
Once again, the Bible is unequivocal on this.
The Old Testament is straight forward. Leviticus 18:22 says, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” In all other Old Testament expressions, the same truth is demonstrated. Several times, such sin is condemned and is part of what brings God’s wrath, as for example, in Sodom and Gomorrah.
God’s point of view is also quite clear in the New Testament. Paul, describing the spiral into sin of those who have rejected God, writes in Romans 1 that homosexuality is a part of the movement away from God. It begins with the rejection of God as we read in Romans 1:21, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Then we read on in Romans 1:24-27, “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.”
In 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10 we find homosexuality in a list of those who will not inherit the kingdom of heaven: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
This is the message of scripture throughout and there is nothing to the contrary. Engaging in homosexual acts is sin.
However, we need to specify. The Bible does not condemn homosexual temptations, but rather acts. Just as in the rest of the Bible, we are not condemned for our temptations. Jesus Himself was not condemned for being tempted. The list of those excluded from the kingdom of God in I Corinthians 6 includes adulterers, greedy people and slanderers. If that is the case, we recognize that many of us struggle with these temptations. If God rejected us just because of our temptations, we would all be lost. It is sin that has not been dealt with that excludes us from the kingdom, not the temptation to sin. Kaiser says, “…all of these passages condemn particular sexual acts. None of them speak of homosexual desires. In the Scriptures it is not homosexual temptation that is wrong, but the actual acts themselves. This is an important distinction, for it reminds us that the Scriptures honor people successfully struggling with temptation rather than condemning them for their temptations.”
I think this distinction is important and we need to affirm it. For some reason, we have come to see this sin as so evil that even the temptation is cause for total rejection. That is not a Biblical perspective. Just as many struggle with other sexual temptations and we encourage them to purity and abstinence, I believe our attitude should be the same in regards to the practice of homosexuality. If someone struggles with these temptations, we should not condemn them, but rather help them live in purity.
B. Treatment Of Homosexuals
So as we look at Scripture, we see that God is quite clear that homosexual practice is sin. However, as we say that homosexuality is sin, we need to think also about how we treat those who are homosexuals.
When saying boldly that homosexuality is sin, we may be accused of gay bashing or of homophobia. It seems an inclination to fear those who are involved in this sin and it might be very easy, in defence of the truth that it is sin, to come across as hateful. Is this how God would have us treat people?
One of the things that we notice about Jesus is that although he never sinned and was very clear about what was sin and about the consequences of sin, yet we find that in deed, he loved sinners and he treated them as people. Repeatedly we find that he spoke with them and even ate with them. When the woman was caught in adultery, we read in John 8:11 “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’” If we understand the importance of eating and the uncleanness that it subjected you to in the eyes of the Jewish community, we know the powerful thing that Jesus did when he ate with tax collectors and sinners and he did do that. Matthew 9:10 says, “While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples.” In fact, he was accused by the Pharisees for this open attitude. In the passage we just read, we read further, “When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
We are called to imitate Jesus and his example teaches us that although we must continue to affirm that homosexual practice is sin, yet we cannot fear or hate those who are engaged in such practices. As imitators of Jesus, we must show compassion, we must listen to and love those who struggle in this way. By such acts of compassion, perhaps by the grace of God we will be able to help them find grace and life in Jesus.
If the government acts to make saying “homosexuality is sin” a criminal offence, some of us may end up in jail. If the government changes the definition of marriage, it could become illegal to refuse to perform homosexual marriages. Things could become more difficult for Christians. If such persecution happens, we should not be surprised. God has warned us that God’s way will not always be accepted and His people will be persecuted. We should prepare ourselves by understanding that truth.
However, let us not give up just yet. Right now is the time for us to become active to seek and speak for righteousness. The lobby for change is strong. Some of the arguments can be persuasive, but Scripture is also clear and although we may not be able to argue with human thoughts, let us stand firm on Biblical truth. Therefore, I would like to invite us to respond to the things we have talked about today.
First and foremost, let us pray. Let us pray for our government that they will do what is right. Let us pray for the judges who are influencing the laws that they will do right. Let us pray individually and let us pray as a community. There is an opportunity to pray on September 14 at 7:00 pm at the drop in center in Morris. Let us take this opportunity.
Furthermore, let us write letters or emails to our elected officials to let them know what we think. Writing gently and carefully worded letters that express God’s truth is a privilege that we have as members of a democratic society. If we say nothing and unrighteousness happens, then we have nothing to complain about, because we have not involved ourselves in the process. If we make our thoughts known and unrighteousness happens, at least we have done what we could.
Finally, let us never stop loving those who make laws, those who see things differently than we do and even those who live in the sin we condemn.
Statement on Marriage by:
Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
“The definition of marriage enables us to distinguish between marriage other forms of close personal relationships. We exist in two sexes, and marriage is the enduring and exclusive sexual union of one man and one woman. This union provides a caring and stable environment for the expression of the physical and psychological bond between male and female. This practical ideal does not intentionally forfeit the child’s right to grow up being nurtured by both parents. The redefinition of marriage will reduce it to a commitment between two people, and there are many relationships in society which would meet the new definition. Marriage will lose its distinctiveness.”
Bruce Clemenger, President
Statement on Marriage by:
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
Dear Mr. Prime Minister:
In the name of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and with the support of its Permanent Council, allow me to say that I am deeply concerned and profoundly disappointed with respect to the decision that you have taken not to appeal the rulings of the Appeal Courts of Ontario and British Columbia regarding the redefinition of marriage. The prospect of the bill that you are preparing to present to the House of Commons in support of the redefinition of marriage by including same-sex partners would mean a devaluation of traditional marriage as the basis of the family and as an essential institution for the stability and equilibrium of society.
Marriage understood as the lasting union of a man and woman to the exclusion of others pre-exists the State. Because it pre-exists the State and because it is fundamental for society, the institution of marriage cannot be modified, whether by the Charter of Rights, the State or a court of law.
The point is not that, because same-sex partners cannot have access to marriage, there would be discrimination. Rather, it is the contrary that is true. Enlarging and thereby altering the definition of marriage in order to include same-sex partners discriminates against heterosexual marriage and the family, which are thus deprived of their social and legal recognition as the fundamental and irreplaceable basis of society.
Same-sex unions cannot be considered as marriage. The definition of marriage that has been introduced by the Ontario Court of Appeal leads simply to a legal confusion which a rigorous analysis by the Supreme Court should be capable of denouncing, if there is no undue haste and improvisation.
Mr. Prime Minister, I would very much hope that the legacy you are leaving does not include legislation that represents an assault on common sense, an assault on the values of societies which are advanced but not amoral, and an assault on the liberties of men and women of good will.
I pray that you will have the courage to act in conformity with the law that is inscribed within human nature and which is not affected by every wind that blows.
Most Reverend Jacques Berthelet, C.S.V.
Bishop of Saint-Jean-Longueuil
President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
Statement on Marriage by:
Congress on the Family
Geneva 1999: A Call from the Families of the World
We come together from diverse national, cultural, social and faith communities to affirm the natural human family. The natural family is the fundamental social unit, inscribed in human nature, and centred around the voluntary union of a man and a woman in a lifelong covenant of marriage for the purposes of:
· satisfying the longings of the human heart to give and
· welcoming and ensuring the full physical and emotional development of children;
· sharing a home that serves as the centre for social, educational, economic, and spiritual life;
· building strong bonds among the generations to pass on a way of life that has transcendent meaning; and
· extending a hand of compassion to individuals and households whose circumstances fall short of these ideals.
Today, however, certain social, political and economic forces threaten the natural family, tearing the social fabric at local, national and international levels. Under slogans such as “modernity,” “globalization,” and “progress,” and in the name of “Civil Society,” these forces have weakened the bonds between husband and wife, parent and child, and the generations.
These ideologies deny the natural origin and status of the family, the equal but complementary roles of men and women, the miracle of human fertility and procreation, the dignity and worth of every human person, and the autonomy of the family itself. The family, which develops and sustains not only individuals but all larger communities, has been subordinated to the agendas of pressure groups, ignored by economic decision-makers, and subjected to social experimentation.
STATEMENT ON THE STATUS OF MARRIAGE IN CANADA
18 June 2003
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Over the past year four Canadian courts have ruled that marriage, recognized under the common law as "the union of one man and one woman," is inconsistent with constitutional values in modern Canadian society and offends the equality rights of homosexuals under section 15 of the Charter. These courts have determined that the existing legal framework for marriage is too narrowly defined and does not offer equitable treatment for non-traditional unions.
Two of the courts acknowledged the unique role of Parliament in formulating a proper response to this question. They gave the federal and provincial legislatures until July 2004 to rectify this situation. On June 10, however, the Ontario Court of Appeal acted unilaterally. It pre-empted further discussion by Parliament by striking down the common law definition of marriage and reformulating it as "the voluntary union for life of two persons." The court ordered that this remedy take effect immediately.
In reaching its decision the Ontario Court of Appeal does three noteworthy things. First, it imposes a new and disputed ideology of "close relationships" upon marriage. On this view marriage (for legal purposes) is reduced to the public recognition of committed relationships between two adults. This theory bleaches out the significance of sexual difference and dismisses any "rational connection" between marriage, gender complementarity, procreation, and the rearing of children by their biological parents. It renders a very pale concept of marriage with a doubtful claim on the public interest.
Second, the Ontario Court adopts a strategy which effectively disallows any attempt to defend the traditional, more robust view of marriage from the charge that it is unacceptably discriminatory. It takes up the subjectivist notion of human dignity which has recently been advanced in Canadian courts — viz., that "dignity means that an individual or group feels self-respect and self-worth" — and insists that "the impugned law must at all times be viewed from the perspective of the claimant." According to this formula, the law of marriage must be reconfigured to the experience of same-sex couples. "The question to be asked is whether the law takes into account the actual needs, capacities and circumstances of same-sex couples, not whether the law takes into account the needs, capacities and circumstances of opposite-sex couples." This establishes a circular form of reasoning which no arguments in favour of the existing definition of marriage can hope to penetrate.
Third, and uniquely, it insists that "the courts have jurisdiction to alter the common law definition of marriage" without reference to Parliament. While allowing that the common law did not invent, but only recognized, marriage as the union of a man and a woman, it nonetheless claims the power to re-invent marriage as the union of two persons — contrary to the expressed will of the people of Canada through their parliamentary representatives as recently as 1999.
This decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal has been heralded by some as bringing the whole debate about marriage in Canada — a debate still in its infancy — to a fitting conclusion. By others it has been denounced as an especially egregious example of judicial activism. In our view it only serves to underscore the conclusion of earlier judgments, namely, that Parliament, not the courts, is the place to forge an appropriate legislative response to the complex and multi-layered issues surrounding the public definition of marriage and the legal recognition of same-sex unions. Given the very grave significance of this public debate for three vital institutions in our nation — the family, the judiciary, and Parliament — a great deal more serious deliberation and democratic input is required.
I. Proposals for Respecting Marriage
The institution of marriage has a long history of development and adaptation. So too, of course, does our society. We recognize that there is a need now, for a wide variety of reasons, to re-think our society's approach to marriage. We also recognize that there is a need to provide new legal frameworks for various forms of adult inter-dependent relationships. However, we maintain that marriage as the common law has long recognized it — as "the voluntary and lawful union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others" — is something distinct from other forms of human relationships. We do not accept that this time-honoured institution, which continues to provide the vital core of family life in Canada, can justly be impugned as discriminatory. We therefore make the following proposals:
a) Parliament should assert its right, by whatever means necessary, to determine the ways in which marriage is to be recognized in Canadian public life, and to forge patiently a comprehensive legislative response to the complexities of the current situation.
b) Canadian law should continue to embody the conviction that marriage, as an opposite-sex union which is commonly aimed both at mutual support and at the procreation and rearing of children, is the principal social basis upon which our society seeks to ensure its vitality, stability, and perpetuation.
c) Legislative changes made in order to facilitate the recognition of other forms of adult relationships involving cohabitation and mutual support should be made under appropriate titles that do not negate the recognition of marriage as the union of two persons of opposite sex.
II. Why Preserve the Existing Definition of Marriage?
Marriage is a unique cultural institution that affirms and supports a distinct social ecology in human culture: the bridging of the gender gap; the generation of life through the fusion of the sexes; the birth-right of children to know, to be connected to, and to be in stable relationship with, their natural parents.
Marriage pre-exists European colonization and reaches back into Canada's aboriginal traditions. It is also a pillar of the Judeo-Christian traditions that have helped to shape Canadian life. In the recent parliamentary hearings aboriginal, Muslim and other cultural or religious groups in our diverse society have urged parliamentarians to resist proposals to abolish (by over-extension) the legal recognition of this distinctive human institution so vital to Canadian culture and history.
Without implying that there is one comprehensive understanding of marriage to which everyone ought to give full assent, nevertheless there are core elements, purposes, and aspirations of marriage that have won wide approval and deserve to be handed on from one generation to the next:
- Marriage is based on the free consent of one man and one woman to join as husband and wife in a union of life together.
- Marriage is truest to its nature when monogamous and faithful.
- Marriage serves the vast and complex social-sexual ecology of male-female bonding (99.5% of all couples in Canada are heterosexual).
- Marriage serves the procreativity of male/female bonding; conjugal union between a man and a woman is the only social union that can be a reproductive union.
- Marriage, as an institution, has a child-centred dimension; it directs mothers and fathers to the care and support of their children.
- Marriage establishes the norm that children have a prima facie right and a need to know, to be connected to, and to be raised by their own mother and father, unless exceptional adverse circumstances dictate otherwise.
- Marriage is generational and genealogical; it binds together the past and the future.
- Marriage pre-exists the state and religion; while it is appropriately recognized, regulated and affirmed by the state and religions, nevertheless, it is not created or determined by the state or religions.
While marriage has a unique and indispensable place in human existence, nevertheless it is neither necessary nor good that every human person should enter into this particular form of social union. All of the above can be affirmed without prejudice to the fact that there are other forms of personal relationships that have their own distinct dignity and purpose.
III. The Perils of the Current Remedy
By a narrow and disputed vote of the Commons justice committee, our federal government has been urged to capitulate to the decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal, and now appears to be in the process of doing so. While we applaud the government's decision to put the impending legislation to a free vote in the House, we urge it to recognize the danger in taking the country down the path marked out by the Court, in the face of so many unresolved questions and in the absence of anything like a consensus. We recognize that there is a need to address patterns of unjust discrimination, wherever they occur, against persons of homosexual orientation. But we ask our parliamentarians to consider closely the many good reasons for objecting to the Court's remedy, among which are the following:
- This remedy is not in continuity with the history, tradition, and values of Canadian society. It attempts to re-design an institution which is older and more fundamental to Canadian society than Parliament itself.
- This remedy wrongly impugns that institution, and its many supporters, as discriminatory.
- This remedy, while meant to respect diversity, actually diminishes diversity by homogenizing very different forms of relationship. However well-intentioned, it is an inappropriate and inadequate response to concerns about the equality under law of persons of homosexual orientation.
- This remedy pre-empts legitimate debate, inside and outside of the legal system, as to the meaning of Section 15 equality rights.
- This remedy threatens to obstruct the ability of governments to develop public policies which promote the distinct characteristics of marriage, affirm the good of intact families, and support the relationship of children to their mothers and fathers.
- This remedy threatens the freedom of individuals and communities working to support and promote the common human understanding of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, inasmuch as it may open such activity to charges of discriminatory speech or conduct. It threatens religious freedom, academic freedom, and the freedom of parents to educate their children according to their traditions, norms and beliefs.
- This remedy, in the words of Mr. Justice Robert Blair of the Ontario Superior Court, is not merely an incremental change in the law, but a "profound change." Justice Blair points out that "the consequences and potential reverberations flowing from such a transformation in the concept of marriage … are extremely complex. They will touch the core of many people's belief and value systems, and their resolution is laden with social, political, cultural, emotional and legal ramifications. They require a response to a myriad of consequential issues relating to such things as inheritance and property rights, filiation, alternative biogenetic and artificial birth technologies, adoption, and other marriage-status driven matters." Previous experience in Canada with far less radical changes to marriage legislation demonstrates that such concerns cannot reasonably be dismissed as "speculative."
The commitment of Canadians to fairness, equality, and tolerance may entail the extension of legal recognition to various kinds of relationships beside that of marriage; indeed it has already done so. But that commitment will not be served by expropriating and reconfiguring an historic institution designed to meet the unique challenges and complexities of opposite-sex conjugal relationships. It would be better served by maintaining the existing institution of marriage and simultaneously affirming the federal government's right and obligation to recognize in appropriate ways those other forms of relationship which merit legal status across Canada. Canadians, whatever their faith or ethnic backgrounds, whatever their sexual orientation, should resist any approach that would undermine, rather than meaningfully develop and enrich, an institution so essential to the well-being of Canadians past, present and future.
Statement on Marriage by:
Vatican Document on Homosexual Unions
Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons
CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH
1. In recent years, various questions relating to homosexuality have been addressed with some frequency by Pope John Paul II and by the relevant Dicasteries of the Holy See.(1) Homosexuality is a troubling moral and social phenomenon, even in those countries where it does not present significant legal issues. It gives rise to greater concern in those countries that have granted or intend to grant - legal recognition to homosexual unions, which may include the possibility of adopting children. The present Considerations do not contain new doctrinal elements; they seek rather to reiterate the essential points on this question and provide arguments drawn from reason which could be used by Bishops in preparing more specific interventions, appropriate to the different situations throughout the world, aimed at protecting and promoting the dignity of marriage, the foundation of the family, and the stability of society, of which this institution is a constitutive element. The presen! t Considerations are also intended to give direction to Catholic politicians by indicating the approaches to proposed legislation in this area which would be consistent with Christian conscience.(2) Since this question relates to the natural moral law, the arguments that follow are addressed not only to those who believe in Christ, but to all persons committed to promoting and defending the common good of society.
I. THE NATURE OF MARRIAGE AND ITS INALIENABLE CHARACTERISTICS
2. 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.
3. The natural truth about marriage was confirmed by the Revelation contained in the biblical accounts of creation, an expression also of the original human wisdom, in which the voice of nature itself is heard. There are three fundamental elements of the Creator's plan for marriage, as narrated in the Book of Genesis.
In the first place, man, the image of God, was created "male and female" (Gen 1:27). Men and women are equal as persons and complementary as male and female. Sexuality is something that pertains to the physical-biological realm and has also been raised to a new level - the personal level - where nature and spirit are united.
Marriage is instituted by the Creator as a form of life in which a communion of persons is realized involving the use of the sexual faculty. "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and they become one flesh" (Gen 2:24).
Third, 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 belong to the very nature of marriage.
Furthermore, the marital union of man and woman has been elevated by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament. The Church teaches that Christian marriage is an efficacious sign of the covenant between Christ and the Church (cf. Eph 5:32). This Christian meaning of marriage, far from diminishing the profoundly human value of the marital union between man and woman, confirms and strengthens it (cf. Mt 19:3-12; Mk 10:6-9).
4. 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. Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law. Homosexual acts "close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved".(4)
Sacred Scripture condemns homosexual acts "as a serious depravity... (cf. Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 6:10; 1 Tim 1:10). This judgment of Scripture does not of course permit us to conclude that all those who suffer from this anomaly are personally responsible for it, but it does attest to the fact that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered".(5) This same moral judgment is found in many Christian writers of the first centuries(6) and is unanimously accepted by Catholic Tradition.
Nonetheless, according to the teaching of the Church, men and women with homosexual tendencies "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided".(7) They are called, like other Christians, to live the virtue of chastity.(8) The homosexual inclination is however "objectively disordered" (9) and homosexual practices are "sins gravely contrary to chastity".(10)
II. POSITIONS ON THE PROBLEM OF HOMOSEXUAL UNIONS
5. Faced with the fact of homosexual unions, civil authorities adopt different positions. At times they simply tolerate the phenomenon; at other times they advocate legal recognition of such unions, under the pretext of avoiding, with regard to certain rights, discrimination against persons who live with someone of the same sex. In other cases, they favour giving homosexual unions legal equivalence to marriage properly so-called, along with the legal possibility of adopting children.
Where the government's policy is de facto tolerance and there is no explicit legal recognition of homosexual unions, it is necessary to distinguish carefully the various aspects of the problem. Moral conscience requires that, in every occasion, Christians give witness to the whole moral truth, which is contradicted both by approval of homosexual acts and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons. Therefore, discreet and prudent actions can be effective; these might involve: unmasking the way in which such tolerance might be exploited or used in the service of ideology; stating clearly the immoral nature of these unions; reminding the government of the need to contain the phenomenon within certain limits so as to safeguard public morality and, above all, to avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage that would deprive them of their necessary defences and contribute to the spread of the phenomenon. Those who would move from tolerance to ! the legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil.
In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.
III. ARGUMENTS FROM REASON AGAINST LEGAL RECOGNITION OF HOMOSEXUAL UNIONS
6. To understand why it is necessary to oppose legal recognition of homosexual unions, ethical considerations of different orders need to be taken into consideration.
From the order of right reason
The scope of the civil law is certainly more limited than that of the moral law,(11) but civil law cannot contradict right reason without losing its binding force on conscience.(12) 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.(13) Laws in favour 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. Given the values at stake in this question, the State could not grant legal standing to such unions without failing in its duty to promote and defend marriage as an institution essential to the common good.
It might be asked how a law can be contrary to the common good if it does not impose any particular kind of behaviour, but simply gives legal recognition to a de facto reality which does not seem to cause injustice to anyone. In this area, one needs first to reflect on the difference between homosexual behaviour as a private phenomenon and the same behaviour as a relationship in society, foreseen and approved by the law, to the point where it becomes one of the institutions in the legal structure. This second phenomenon is not only more serious, but also assumes a more wide-reaching and profound influence, and would result in changes to the entire organization of society, contrary to the common good. Civil laws are structuring principles of man's life in society, for good or for ill. They "play a very important and sometimes decisive role in influencing patterns of thought and behaviour".(14) Lifestyles and the underlying presuppositions these express not only externally sha! pe 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.
From the biological and anthropological order
7. Homosexual unions are totally lacking in the biological and anthropological elements of marriage and family which would be the basis, on the level of reason, for granting them legal recognition. Such unions are not able to contribute in a proper way to the procreation and survival of the human race. The possibility of using recently discovered methods of artificial reproduction, beyond involv- ing a grave lack of respect for human dignity,(15) does nothing to alter this inadequacy.
Homosexual unions are also totally lacking in the conjugal dimension, which represents the human and ordered form of sexuality. Sexual relations are human when and insofar as they express and promote the mutual assistance of the sexes in marriage and are open to the transmission of new life.
As experience has shown, the absence of sexual complementarity in these unions creates obstacles in the normal development of children who would be placed in the care of such persons. They would be deprived of the experience of either fatherhood or motherhood. Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development. This is gravely immoral and in open contradiction to the principle, recognized also in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, that the best interests of the child, as the weaker and more vulnerable party, are to be the paramount consideration in every case.
From the social order
8. Society owes its continued survival to the family, founded on marriage. The inevitable consequence of legal recognition of homosexual unions would be the redefinition of marriage, which would become, in its legal status, an institution devoid of essential reference to factors linked to heterosexuality; for example, procreation and raising children. If, from the legal standpoint, marriage between a man and a woman were to be considered just one possible form of marriage, the concept of marriage would undergo a radical transformation, with grave detriment to the common good. By putting homosexual unions on a legal plane analogous to that of marriage and the family, the State acts arbitrarily and in contradiction with its duties.
The principles of respect and non-discrimination cannot be invoked to support legal recognition of homosexual unions. Differentiating between persons or refusing social recognition or benefits is unacceptable only when it is contrary to justice.(16) The denial of the social and legal status of marriage to forms of cohabitation that are not and cannot be marital is not opposed to justice; on the contrary, justice requires it.
Nor can the principle of the proper autonomy of the individual be reasonably invoked. It is one thing to maintain that individual citizens may freely engage in those activities that interest them and that this falls within the common civil right to freedom; it is something quite different to hold that activities which do not represent a significant or positive contribution to the development of the human person in society can receive specific and categorical legal recognition by the State. Not even in a remote analogous sense do homosexual unions fulfil the purpose for which marriage and family deserve specific categorical recognition. On the contrary, there are good reasons for holding that such unions are harmful to the proper development of human society, especially if their impact on society were to increase.
From the legal order
9. Because married couples ensure the succession of generations and are therefore eminently within the public interest, civil law grants them institutional recognition. Homosexual unions, on the other hand, do not need specific attention from the legal standpoint since they do not exercise this function for the common good.
Nor is the argument valid according to which legal recognition of homosexual unions is necessary to avoid situations in which cohabiting homosexual persons, simply because they live together, might be deprived of real recognition of their rights as persons and citizens. In reality, they can always make use of the provisions of law - like all citizens from the standpoint of their private autonomy - to protect their rights in matters of common interest. It would be gravely unjust to sacrifice the common good and just laws on the family in order to protect personal goods that can and must be guaranteed in ways that do not harm the body of society.(17)
IV. POSITIONS OF CATHOLIC POLITICIANS WITH REGARD TO LEGISLATION IN FAVOUR OF HOMOSEXUAL UNIONS
10. If it is true that all Catholics are obliged to oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions, Catholic politicians are obliged to do so in a particular way, in keeping with their responsibility as politicians. Faced with legislative proposals in favour of homosexual unions, Catholic politicians are to take account of the following ethical indications.
When legislation in favour of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic law-maker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favour of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral.
When legislation in favour of the recognition of homosexual unions is already in force, the Catholic politician must oppose it in the ways that are possible for him and make his opposition known; it is his duty to witness to the truth. If it is not possible to repeal such a law completely, the Catholic politician, recalling the indications contained in the Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, "could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality", on condition that his "absolute personal opposition" to such laws was clear and well known and that the danger of scandal was avoided.(18) This does not mean that a more restrictive law in this area could be considered just or even acceptable; rather, it is a question of the legitimate and dutiful attempt to obtain at least the partial repeal of an unjust law when its total abrogation is not possible at the moment.
11. The Church teaches that 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.
The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, in the Audience of March 28, 2003, approved the present Considerations, adopted in the Ordinary Session of this Congregation, and ordered their publication.
Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, June 3, 2003, Memorial of Saint Charles Lwanga and his Companions, Martyrs.
Joseph Card. Ratzinger Prefect
Angelo Amato, S.D.B. Titular Archbishop of Sila Secretary
“Does the Bible really condemn homosexuality? The answer is yes, it does. In every place it mentions any homosexual practice it roundly condemns the practice. In no place does it speak positively of homosexuality.
Does the Bible dwell on the issue, especially since parts of it were written in a world full of bisexuality? No, it does not. Instead the Bible focuses on its alternative. It encourages sexual expression in the context of a faithful marriage, and it exalts celibacy for those who cannot or choose not to marry. Both are honorable lifestyles. There is no third way.”
Kaiser, W. C. Hard Sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity, 1997, c1996. Page 545.