Reflections on the Vatican Document
Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal
Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons
July 31, 2003
On Thursday, July 31, 2003, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith made public a document entitled Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons.
Drawing on the natural law and the history of cultural traditions, as well as the constant teaching of the Church, the Vatican’s Considerations recognizes marriage as a life-long covenant between a man and a woman. It affirms the ancient teaching that by their mutual commitment to one another and by their openness to cooperating with God’s creative power, a husband and wife bring forth the family as the foundation of society and civilization. The truth of marriage is beautifully and correctly characterized as a caring and loving relationship between a husband and a wife who fulfill themselves as persons by complementing one another in domestic life and in the natural creation of new life.
The purpose of the Considerations is to reiterate the essential points on “homosexual marriages” and provide arguments drawn from reason that can be helpful in “protecting and promoting the dignity of marriage, the foundation of the family, and the stability of society” (1).
What the Considerations makes clear is that at the heart of the issue is the nature of marriage and its inalienable characteristics. “Marriage is not just any relationship between human beings. It was established by the Creator with its own nature, essential properties and purpose” (2). Natural law means that persons act according to God’s created plan. Man and woman join together in marriage.
The reason the Church speaks to the issue of homosexual unions is because we are dealing with the natural created order and therefore the natural moral law. This is not simply a question of the teaching of any one church or faith community. Rather we are dealing with something that is abundantly evident as a natural human reality. The Considerations reminds us: “no ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman” (2).
At the same time that the Considerations testifies to the uniqueness of marriage, it also continues to teach clearly about the respect due homosexual persons and condemns all forms of unjust discrimination, harassment or abuse toward men and women with homosexual tendencies. Citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Considerations affirms that homosexual persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.” Moral truth, the document states, is contradicted “both by approval of homosexual acts and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons.”
The Church also derives authority to speak to the question of homosexual unions because “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” (3).
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is reminding all of us that human marriage is rooted in God’s created plan and is evident in human nature. “Male and female God created them” (Gen. 1.27). It is the union of man and woman that constitutes marriage. Law does not. It recognizes what God has already established.
In developing its teaching the document presents arguments from reason against the legal recognition of homosexual unions. The first consideration is taken from human reason. Civil law is certainly more limited in its scope than the natural moral law. For a law to be truly just it cannot contradict right reason without losing its binding force on conscience. In other words civil laws have to conform with the moral order to be just laws.
We have experienced in the history of our country the imposition of laws that were enacted by the legislature and confirmed by the Supreme Court which at the same time were clearly immoral and unjust. Slavery presents the most obvious example of a law that was simply unjust because it contradicted the truth of right reason and the natural moral order. All human beings are created equal. None can be reduced to slavery simply to benefit the will of lawmakers.
The same self-evident truth is present in the discussion of abortion. While in the United States abortion may be legal it is simply immoral to take the life of an unborn child. Morality is a more important directive for human life than the narrow confines of simple legality.
“Laws in favor of homosexual unions are contrary to right reason because they confer legal guarantees, analogous of 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” (6).
Another reason to challenge the validity of homosexual unions is found in the physical order. “Homosexual unions are totally lacking in the biological and anthropological elements of marriage and family” (7). The whole vision of man and woman coming together in love that shares their differences, rejoices in how they complement one another and is open to the creation of new life is lost in “same sex marriages.” Thus there is no basis other than political pressure or social preference for granting such unions legal recognition (cf. 7).
The Considerations further explains that adoptions by homosexual couples would not be in the best interest of children. There are serious 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” (7). To allow adoptions in these cases would place children in “an environment not conducive to their full human development” (7).
The Considerations highlights that legislators simply do not have the power to reorder the biological and human condition found in creation. To attempt to do so is to do violence to the human situation evident to people in every land.
The document rightly presents the fact that society owes its continued survival to the family, founded on marriage. In a culture in which there is already considerable disruption because of the undermining of the family as the primary unit of society, there should be grave concern over establishing a legal norm that puts homosexual unions on a legal plane analogous to that of marriage and the family.
“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 benefit 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” (8).
Some today claim that a “marriage” among homosexuals is a right. What the Considerations highlights is that people cannot simply create “rights” claiming them to be human rights when they are not founded in the natural moral order.
The State can create certain categories of legal rights. It cannot create natural moral law. It cannot create human rights. It must, first of all, recognize God’s created natural order and then follow it. The State should not create legal rights that contravene – contradict – the natural moral order.
It is for this reason that the Considerations also raises objections from the legal order. “Because married couples ensure the succession of generations and are therefore eminently within the public interest, civil law grants them institutional recognition” (9). Civil law should do nothing to undermine the value, dignity, worth and public appreciation of the institution of marriage.
Finally the document points out that Catholics and particularly Catholic politicians have every right to speak out of their own Catholic convictions and in fact have an obligation to do so. In the United States people are expected and often applauded for standing up and speaking their convictions particularly in the public arena. Catholics enjoy that same privilege and face the same obligation.
The Considerations states that Catholics must refrain from “any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application” of laws that give the legal status and rights belonging to marriage to homosexual unions (5). Where such laws do not exist, Catholic politicians must oppose them if they are proposed. In any case, “everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection” against laws that violate the natural law (5).