Informed Conscience

Same-Sex Marriage

Introduction

There is currently a large movement in the United States and internationally to extend to gay couples the same legal rights and privileges (as well as obligations) as straight couples. This cause has met with considerable opposition, predominantly from religious organizations that disapprove of same-sex marriage and consider homosexuality immoral. There are gay couples who, just like their straight counterparts, wish to enter into lifelong unions that are loving, committed and faithful. They also seek the same legal protections that the government affords to such unions.

Semantics

Some confusion has been caused by the different terms used to refer to marriage in its various forms and contexts. For example, the term “civil union” is sometimes used to distinguish a marriage that occurs in a legal context, rather than in a religious context. It is important to move beyond the terminology itself and focus on the core underlying issue: should governments grant same-sex couples the same legal rights as heterosexual couples? If so, then there is no need to invent new terminology to differentiate between married couples who are gay or straight. That would be impractical and would enforce the notion of “separate but equal”, a subtle form of discrimination.

Civil Marriage vs. Religious Marriage

It is essential to differentiate between civil marriage and religious marriage, because they are separate institutions conferred by different entities (the state and church, respectively) with different associated rights and obligations.

Civil marriage is an institution in which a couple's union is recognized by the state. It is a legal contract with various rights and privileges (such as visitation rights when a partner is hospitalized) as well as duties and obligations (such as the provision of alimony in the event of a divorce).

Religious marriage is an institution in which a couple's union is recognized by a church. It is a religious rite, sometimes called a sacrament, with various rights and privileges (such as the expression of sexual love) as well as duties and obligations (such as the raising of children).

Separation of Church and State

The United States has a separation of church and state, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. This separation works both ways. It ensures freedom of religion by prohibiting the government from interfering with an individual's right to practice the religion of his or her choice. It also ensures a secular government by prohibiting any church from imposing its religious beliefs on the state.

Position of the Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church refuses to administer the sacrament of matrimony to same-sex couples. In addition, it firmly opposes any and all legal rights for married gay couples, irrespective of whether those legal unions are called “marriage” or “civil union”.

The Vatican document “Considerations Regarding Proposals To Give Legal Recognition To Unions Between Homosexual Persons” states, “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.” 1

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops document “Marriage and Same-Sex Unions” states, “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.” 2

The Roman Catholic Church is entitled to confer the sacrament of matrimony as it sees fit (a right guaranteed it by the Unites States Constitution). However, it is now attempting to impose its religious teachings regarding homosexuality (teachings not shared by many other churches) on all United States citizens.

This would be the same as if the Church attempted to impose its other religious teachings about marriage on the rest of society. For example, the Church also refuses to administer the sacrament of matrimony to people who are divorced, but it does not actively oppose their legal right to civil remarriage.

If we were to apply the same Church requirements for religious marriage to civil marriage, then should we similarly deny civil marriages to people who are permanently impotent, or cannot engage in intercourse (like some people who are paraplegic)?

Benefits to Society

It is sad that many of the same people who accuse gay culture of being promiscuous also oppose an institution that would enable gay people to enter into committed, stable unions sanctioned by society.

Encouraging gay couples to enter into committed and stable unions will benefit society. It is ironic that the supposed “protection of marriage” seems to focus more on the prevention of new loving unions rather than the nurturing of existing unions.

Arguments against Same-Sex Marriage

The arguments against same-sex marriage are varied.

Some claim that same-sex marriage should not be allowed because it cannot create a new life. This is cruel and, if applied consistently, would deny marriage to heterosexual people who are infertile (which is fortunately not done).

Some claim that same-sex marriage cannot achieve the same level of complementarity that exists between a man and a woman. This ignores studies that have found same-sex and heterosexual couples to be equivalent to each other on measures of relationship satisfaction and commitment. 3

Some claim that same-sex marriage will threaten the very fabric of society by changing the notion of what constitutes a family. However, they fail to explain exactly how the inclusion of same-sex marriages will negatively impact society at all. In this day and age there are already many non-traditional families which are nonetheless stable and healthy.

Some claim that same-sex marriage will undermine marriage between a man and a woman. This certainly does not afford gay people the dignity they deserve, and implies that they are second class citizens whose unions are somehow inferior to those of their straight brothers and sisters.

Some claim that same-sex marriages will pose a threat to children who are placed in the care of a gay couple. It is important to realize that adoption and same-sex marriage are two entirely different issues. With adoption, the primary concern is always determining what is in the best interests of the child. A child should never be placed in the care of any couple (gay or straight) because the couple “deserves it”. Overall, the research indicates that the children of lesbian and gay parents do not differ markedly from the children of heterosexual parents in their development, adjustment, or overall well-being. 4

Conclusion

Catholics have the right, as well as the obligation, to make all their moral decisions based on the dictates of their conscience. In order to have an informed conscience, we encourage you to read widely and research all sides of this issue before you decide how to vote on any legislation concerning same-sex marriage.


Sources
1 Considerations Regarding Proposals To Give Legal Recognition To Unions Between Homosexual Persons www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20030731_homosexual-unions_en.html
2 Marriage and Same-Sex Unions www.usccb.org/laity/marriage/samesexfaqs.shtml
3 American Psychological Association website www.apa.org/topics/sorientation.html#whatisnature
4 American Psychological Association website www.apa.org/topics/sorientation.html#canlesbians

©2007 Informed Conscience