Catholic World News News Feature

Vatican document clearly condemns same-sex "marriage" July 31, 2003

The Vatican has issued a document indicating the firm opposition of the Church to legal recognition of same-sex "marriage," and reminding Catholic politicians of their obligation to oppose such measures.

The 10-point document, entitled Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons , was released on July 31 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The document had already been signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the prefect of that Congregation, and circulated among the world's bishops in June. It was approved by Pope John Paul II on March 28.

In a short but forceful presentation, the Vatican document rebuts popular arguments in favor of same-sex "marriage" and other forms of legal recognition for homosexuality. In a powerful warning to Catholic politicians, the Vatican states that voting in favor of legislation that recognizes homosexual unions would be "gravely immoral."

(The full text of the document can be found on the Vatican web site.)

The document does not present any new theological arguments regarding homosexual, but advances clear logical arguments against the legal acceptance of same-sex unions. The Vatican notes that these arguments are "drawn from reason" rather than revealed truth, and should be accessible to all public figures, whether or not they are Catholic or Christian.

The Vatican statement is clearly aimed at politicians and other public figures, providing them with "rational argumentation" against various initiatives toward same-sex "marriage," and urging them to make their own "clear and emphatic" arguments against such proposals. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) also points out that bishops in individual countries could make "more specific interventions" on the issue.

The Introduction to Considerations describes homosexuality as a "troubling moral and social phenomenon," especially in those countries where activists have launched drives for " legal recognition to homosexual unions, which may include the possibility of adopting children." While reiterating the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2359) that people with homosexual inclinations should be treated with respect, the document also notes the unswerving Church teaching that the homosexual inclination is "objectively disordered" (2358), and homosexual acts are grave sins against chastity. (2396)

The Catholic understanding of marriage, the CDF observes, is not the exclusive teaching of the Church; it is "evident to right reason and recognized as such by all the major cultures of the world." The document flatly states: "No ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman."

In marriage, the CDF observes, a "communion of persons is realized involving the use of the sexual faculty." This common and natural understanding of marriage, the document continues, is "confirmed by the Revelation" that the Church has received. The Christian notion of marriage raises the bond between a man and a woman to new levels, seeing it as "an efficacious sign of the covenant between Christ and the Church."

Homosexual relationships bear none of these essential characteristics of marriage, the document says. In clear and striking language, the Vatican teaches:

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.

Societies may take different approaches to the legal treatment of homosexual acts, the CDF notes. In many cases, the government will quietly tolerate homosexual behavior. However, the document observes: "Moral conscience requires that, in every occasion, Christians give witness to the whole moral truth." Therefore, if the government tolerates homosexual behavior, Christians have obligations: "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."

The situation is more extreme when government moves toward the legal recognition of homosexual unions. In such cases, the Vatican argues, "clear and emphatic opposition is a duty." The document spells out the moral obligations for Catholics in public life:

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.

Underlining the importance of the issue, Considerations notes that the legal recognition of same-sex unions threatens not only the institution of marriage but the stability of civil society. The document recalls that "civil law cannot contradict right reason without losing its binding force on conscience." And since laws that give same-sex relationships the same status as marriage contradict right reason, they imperil the authority of the government.

In brief reflections on the anthropological dimensions of sexuality, the Vatican document observes that "homosexual unions are also totally lacking in the conjugal dimension, which represents the human and ordered form of sexuality." In a sentence that could also apply to heterosexual couples who employ artificial contraceptives, the Vatican teaches:

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.

Considerations takes a particularly dim view of government policies that allow homosexual couples to adopt children. The use of artificial means of reproduction, enabling same-sex couples to bear children, does not alter the essential argument here, the Vatican stresses. "Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children," the document states. Such policies, the document continues, are "gravely immoral."

The CDF document quickly refutes the most popular arguments in favor of legal recognition for homosexuals. First Considerations disposes of the notion that homosexuals suffer from unjust discrimination:

Differentiating between persons or refusing social recognition or benefits is unacceptable only when it is contrary to justice. 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.

Next the document takes up the argument that an individual's personal conduct is protected by "privacy rights."

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 fulfill the purpose for which marriage and family deserve specific categorical recognition.

Finally the CDF rejects the argument that couples who live together may be deprived of certain legal rights involving health-care coverage or inheritance laws. The Vatican document points out that couples "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."

Considerations concludes with a short but very pointed set of statements about the duties of Catholic political leaders to protect the institution of marriage. The document states clearly that voting in favor of legislation that grants legal recognition to same-sex unions would be "gravely immoral." When such legislation is proposed, a Catholic politician has a "moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it."

In societies that have already granted legal recognition to homosexual unions, the document goes on, political leaders are obliged to "witness to the truth" by making their opposition to such measures a matter of public record. Catholic politicians should work for the repeal of these policies, the CDF notes, and avoid any form of cooperation in their enforcement.