The Vatican and Same-Sex Unions


On June 3, 2003, the Vatican released a document that was at least a year in preparation entitled, "Considerations Regarding Proposals To Give Legal Recognition To Unions Between Homosexual Persons."

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These "considerations," contain no new doctrinal elements. Rather, they seek to reiterate essential points about marriage, "drawn from reason," that serve to promote the special dignity of marriage, an institution which is both "the foundation of the family, and the stability of society." The document, therefore, as stated in its Introduction, is addressed "to all persons committed to promoting and defending the common good of society."

In order to give the document a fair reading, it must first be realized that the Catholic Church, though a faith community, is, and has been since its inception, a firm adherent and promoter of reason which includes a recognition of the natural law, an understanding of the nature of the human being, and, however, limited, a fundamental grasp of the structure of the physical universe. The Church, having an abiding interest in all human beings and the common good of society, is trying to re-introduce reason where reason has been lacking. In this regard, the Church is acting as an expert witness in a trial, rather than as an agency that is trying to foist a denominational faith on a non-denominational public.

In taking this rational humanitarian approach, the Church is hoping to establish a mutually acceptable basis on which a meaningful discussion can proceed. Consequently, she is trying to avoid tendentious arguments that arise from political advantage, personal preference, and fashionable ideology. Accordingly, it emphasizes the importance of scientific, biological, and anthropological factors that are pertinent to marriage.

The second point to understand is that the document's message is in no way disrespectful to homosexual persons, is not a vehicle for unjust discrimination, and does not question the capacity of people of the same sex to love each other faithfully and fervently. Citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the document insists that, "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'."

The essential focus of the "Considerations" is marriage, its nature and its relationship with the good of others.

In exploring the nature of marriage, the document draws from history, psychology, biology, and politics. All the great cultures of the world have given matrimony and the family specific institutional recognition (same-sex unions between men could not be termed "matrimony" since no "mother" - mater - is involved). Male and female provide complementary benefits for each other as well as for their children. It states that experience has shown that "absence of sexual complementarity in these unions [same-sex] creates obstacles in the normal development of children who would be placed in the care of such persons." To add secular authority to this contention, it refers to the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child, "that the best interest of the child, as the weaker and more vulnerable party, are to be the paramount consideration in every case."

The inevitable conclusion the document reaches is that "homosexual unions are totally lacking in the biological and anthropological elements of marriage and the family which would be the basis, on the level of reason, for granting them legal recognition."

Moreover, if legal recognition is granted to same-sex unions, marriage between husband and wife would be sharply devaluated. True marriage is far more than an artifact of law, a way of publicly celebrating private love, or a delivery system for a set of legal benefits.

Marriage and the family are already under considerable duress, both internally and externally. Do we want to place it under even greater duress by devaluing it further, turning it into a purely political and private phenomenon? Thus devaluated, marriage as an institution would lose much of its moral force. Being mothers and fathers have their obvious difficulties. We need the support of society to help husbands and wives, mothers and fathers to be faithful to their challenging commitments. Marriage is fundamentally personal, but profoundly social. But spouses must also realize the transcendent significance of their marital union. In a theological sense, pro-creation derives its sacred dignity because it pro-ceeds, from Creation. Such procreation is inherently impossible in same-sex unions.

In conclusion, therefore, the document states: "The common good requires that laws recognize, promote and protect marriage [between husbands and wives] as the basis of the family, the primary unity of society." In failing to do this, the grave danger arises that the basic values of traditional marriage, which belong to the common inheritance of humanity, will be obscured and, as a result, either vitiated or disregarded. This would bode ill for the future of society.



DeMarco, Donald. "The Vatican and Same-Sex Unions." Kitchener-Waterloo Record.

Reprinted with permission of the author.


Donald DeMarco is Professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, CT and Professor Emeritus at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo Ontario. He has written hundreds of articles for various scholarly and popular journals, and is the author of twenty books, including The Heart of Virtue, The Many Faces of Virtue, Virtue's Alphabet: From Amiability to Zeal and Architects Of The Culture Of Death. Donald DeMarco is on the Advisory Board of The Catholic Educator's Resource Center.

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