A Catholic Perspective on Domestic Partnership

by Bishop Paul S. Loverde


The first of a two-part letter from Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde details Church teaching on marriage and family and its relationship to "domestic partnerships."

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Arlington Catholic Herald



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Most Rev. Paul S. Loverde, February 24, 2000

The Virginia Supreme Court has scheduled hearings next week on a domestic partnership case on appeal from Arlington County Court. Bishop Loverde this week adddresses the subject of domestic partnership from a Catholic perspective.

"The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life." So wrote the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council in their Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes, no. 47). The teachings of this remarkable document, issued on December 7, 1965, continue to call for study, reflection and appreciation on the part not only of Christians, but also of all people of good will. As the Council Fathers observed, the health of persons in society, and of a society itself, is directly related to the health of the marital and familial community. These observations are not unique to the Church; many social and cultural commentators have pointed out that as respect for marriage and family life declines, the social fabric begins to unravel. The effects of such a process are, sadly, all too evident: an increased incidence of divorce; loss of respect for such fundamental goods as life; the continued presence of a truly contraceptive mentality; the avoidance or even rejection of the notion of a permanent commitment; and increasingly the favoring of individualistic choices without regard for the meaning of marriage and family life as the foundation of a morally healthy society.

In such a situation, the precious truth about marriage and the family becomes ever more obscured, while alternative kinds of non-marital unions, including both heterosexual and homosexual unions, are proposed as being equal in status, dignity and rights to that of marriage itself. In recent times, local and state authorities have sought to extend recognition to non-marital unions in the form of "domestic partnership" laws. Presently, there is a case before the Virginia Supreme Court in which Arlington County is seeking to offer health insurance to domestic partners of county employees. A domestic partner can be either a same-sex or opposite-sex unmarried partner of a county employee.

As the Bishop of Arlington, charged with the responsibility of teaching and explaining the truths of the faith which are to be believed and applied to the moral life, I judge it my duty to address the issue of domestic partnership legislation that will shortly be argued before our State Supreme Court.

Catholic moral teaching is clear that each and every human person possesses a fundamental dignity that is rooted in our being created in the image of God (cf. Gen. 1:27). Because we are made in God's image, all of us are, in a very real sense, brothers and sisters, sharing not only a common humanity, but also a common origin and a common destiny. The testimony of the revealed Word of God, found in both Scripture and Tradition, witnesses to the fact that we came forth from the hand of God (through the loving cooperation of our parents) and are called to eternal life and communion with Him. Being created in the image of God demands of each of us that we respect, value and ultimately love our neighbor, whether man or woman, heterosexual or homosexual. Indeed, Jesus Christ gives us this command when He unites love of God with love of neighbor (see Mt. 22:34-40; 1 Jn. 4:20-21). The Catechism of the Catholic Church, following the Lord's teaching, reminds us that homosexual men and women "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided" (CCC 2358).

At the same time, the Catechism expresses the constant teaching of the Church that the homosexual inclination is objectively disordered, and that homosexual activity — like heterosexual extramarital activity — is contrary to the natural law and can in no way be approved. Unmarried persons, whether homosexual or heterosexual, are equally called to chastity and purity of life. Once again, the Catechism says very simply and beautifully: "By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection" (CCC 2359).

Why does the Church teach that the use of one's sexual faculties is intrinsically immoral outside the context of that indissoluble, faithful, life-giving union of one man and one woman that we call marriage? The answer lies in understanding the beauty of God's plan for human love that is revealed in the pages of Sacred Scripture, above all in the Book of Genesis.

As we have seen, God fashions humanity in His own image and likeness. In creating human beings, God creates them as male and female. Human beings are nothing less than the work of God Himself; and in the complementarity of the sexes, they are called to reflect the inner unity of the Creator. They do this in a striking way in their cooperation with Him in the transmission of life by a mutual donation of the self to the other (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, October 1, 1986). The Book of Genesis describes not only the creation of man and woman, but also their natural attraction to each other: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh…this is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body" (Gen. 2:23-24). Thus, man and woman make a permanent commitment to one another in a most intimate way--two in one flesh. This union is intended by the Lord to be procreative: "Be fruitful and multiply," He tells Adam and Eve (see Gen. 1:28).

In the New Testament, Christ Himself confirms this understanding of Genesis. When questioned by the Pharisees whether a man may divorce his wife for any reason, Jesus answered, "Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female' and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?" Saint Paul also reaffirms the same revealed truth about human love and sexuality in the fifth chapter of his Letter to the Ephesians (cf. Eph. 5:21-33). Thus, both the Old and New Testaments together allow us to see that, from the beginning, God intended man and woman to be united to each other in a faithful, complementary union from which children issue forth as a great gift and blessing. Marriage, therefore, is revealed to be a great and wonderful reality, one which, in the case of the baptized, images and participates in the love of Christ for His Church. This revelation of the ultimate significance and value of human sexuality (what Pope John Paul II has called "the nuptial meaning of the body") also makes clear how serious are those acts which fail to respect the integrity and meaning of marriage and sexuality.

Not only in Sacred Scripture, however, but also in the Tradition and magisterial teaching of the Church through the centuries we find the constant affirmation that the moral norm of sexual activity is the permanent union of husband and wife for the essentially inseparable purposes of mutual love and procreation. Indeed, most recently, the Second Vatican Council (in Gaudium et Spes), Pope Paul VI (in his encyclical Humanae Vitae), and Pope John Paul II (in his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio) all confirm Divine Tradition on the meaning of the man-woman relationship in marriage. It is important to understand, in connection with the Church's teaching, that marriage is good and holy, and that this goodness and holiness are essentially connected with the goods intrinsic to marriage, namely, children, fidelity and indissolubility. It is precisely in order to protect and promote these wonderful human goods that God created marriage as He did.

The genuine goodness and holiness of marriage is therefore a constant theme of the Church's teaching. The nature of this God-given goodness is especially important to recognize today, because those who would give to non-marital unions the privileges and status enjoyed by husbands and wives contradict not only the good and well-being of society, but they also contradict the divine design.

It is from this context of Scriptural and magisterial teaching about marriage that we must judge "domestic partnership" legislation.

See Part Two: A Catholic Perspective on Domestic Partnership

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