Introduction A growing movement today favors making those relationships commonly called same-sex unions the legal equivalent of marriage. We, the Catholic bishops of the United States, offer here some basic truths to assist people in understanding Catholic teaching about marriage and to enable them to promote marriage and its sacredness. Marriage,as instituted by God, is a faithful, exclusive, lifelong union of a man and a woman joined in an intimate community of life and love. They commit themselves completely to each other and to the wondrous responsibility of bringing children intothe world and caring for them. The call to marriage is woven deeply into the human spirit. However, as created, they are different from but made for each other.
What does our faith tell us about marriage? These biblical passages help us to appreciate God’s plan for marriage. It is an intimate union in which the spouses give themselves, as equal persons, completely and lovingly to one another. By their mutual gift of self, they cooperate with God in bringing children to life and in caring for them. Marriage is both a natural institution and a sacred union because it is rooted in the divine plan for creation. In addition, the Church teaches that the valid marriage of baptized Christians is a sacrament—a saving reality.
This means that a sacramental marriage lets the world see, in human terms, something of the faithful, creative, abundant, and self-emptying love of Christ. They are equal as human beings but different as man and woman, fulfilling each other through this natural difference. This unique complementarity makes possible the conjugal bond that is the core of marriage. Why is a same-sex union not equivalent to a marriage? Persons in same-sex unions cannot enter into a true conjugal union.
Therefore, it is wrong to equate their relationship to a marriage. The marital union also provides the best conditions for raising children: namely, the stable, loving relationship of a mother and father present only in marriage. The state rightly recognizes this relationship as a public institution in its laws because the relationship makes a unique and essential contribution to the common good. Laws play an educational role insofar as they shape patterns of thought and behavior, particularly about what is socially permissible and acceptable.
In effect, giving same-sex unions the legal status of marriage would grant official public approval to homosexual activity and would treat it as if it were morally neutral. When marriage is redefined so as to make other relationships equivalent to it, the institution ofmarriage is devalued and further weakened. The weakening of this basic institution at all levels and by various forces has already exacted too high a social cost. Does denying marriage to homosexual persons demonstrate unjust discrimination and a lack of respect for them as persons? It is not unjust to deny legal status to same-sex unions because marriage and same-sex unions are essentially different realities.
In fact, justice requires society to do so. To uphold God’s intent for marriage, in which sexual relations have their proper and exclusive place, is not to offend the dignity of homosexual persons. There, with the help of other couples and their pastors and collaborators, they can strengthen their commitment and sustain their sacrament over a lifetime. Conclusion Marriage is a basic human and social institution. Though it is regulated by civil laws and church laws, it did not originate from either the church or state, but from God.
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Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility. Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2003. It was approved for publication by the full body of bishops at their November 2003 General Meeting and has been authorized for publication by the undersigned. 1991, 1986, and 1970 by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D. 20017, and are used by permission of the copyright owner.