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The Church in the same-sex marriage debate

HONG KONG (SE): With the passing of same-sex marriage legislation in the House of Commons in the United Kingdom (UK) and what has been already passed in the state senate of Illinois in the United States of America (US), Catholics have been asking what implications this has for the Church, which has persistently opposed the law.

The Church did not invent marriage, nor did it define it as a union between a man and a woman, the tradition precedes the foundation of the Church, which has always considered marriage as something coming from nature.

Consequently, same sex marriage is not particularly a religious question, but rather one pertaining to natural law.

The state did not invent marriage either, but in most countries of the world has protected the institution as the basis of the common good in society.

In the Declaration of Independence in the US, nature and God are tied together in the words, “Nature and Nature’s God.” In the Church, what has been termed natural law has been the basis of its teaching on marriage as a union between a man and woman for the sake of the family.

But in addition, the Church has sanctified marriage between a baptised man and baptised woman by making it a sacrament, giving the union a significance over and above its natural reality.

The Church has been consistent in its opposition to recognising same-sex relationships as marriage in the traditional sense, although it has also been consistent in maintaining that appropriate civil rights should be given to partners in such unions and also to any children in their care.

The Church sees the recognition of same sex relationships as a marriage to be more of a threat to the common good of society than to the Church itself, fearing that if the nature of marriage is distorted, the nature of the natural family will be also, which could have profound consequences for the common good of society.

However, Robert Moynihan suggests in the Moynihan Report of January 6 that what is at stake for the Church is religious freedom, as the proposed legislation in both the UK and in Illinois suggests that religious teaching based on natural law could become illegal discrimination and punishable by law.

Children could be taught attitudes at school that parents do not agree with, yet find that it is a criminal offence to open their children up to a different point of view at home.

While the passing of a law does not change the attitudes of people automatically, as legislation in many states against racial prejudice and other forms of discrimination illustrate, it does teach.

Laws express developing social trends, even in cases when large numbers of people in society may disagree with them.

With education, media involvement and other factors at play, the original purpose of a law designed to address an abuse, can come to be considered a right. Sensitivities towards what was considered problematic can change in such a way as to accept it as normal.

In this process, society must always be aware of whether it is moving on a constructive or destructive path. This is where free speech, debate and discernment in society come into play.

Around 40 years ago, laws permitting abortion were passed in some countries as a necessary evil in closely defined and limited circumstances.

Today, Moynihan suggests that it has come to be considered as a condition of human freedom and an essential part of reproductive health.

However, the question of why legalising same-sex marriage has arisen in the first place must be asked.

It seems to be a response to homophobia, or the stigmatising of same-sex relationships in society, something which no fair-minded person can tolerate.

Consequently, it has become a well-intentioned movement to address a prejudice. For religious people, this can also be a form of compassion.

However, Moynihan reflects, “If religion is to be more than sentiment, the moral content of these words has to be filled in from the truths of what human reason understands and God has revealed.”

Good Church pastoral practice encourages families to accept their children, no matter what their sexual orientation, as well as accepting their neighbour, irrespective of their ethnicity, political views, religious beliefs or sexual preferences.

Pope Benedict XVI notes that what is at stake is the dignity of human nature, created in the image and likeness of God.

“The defence of the family is about man himself,” he writes. “It becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears.”

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