Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference
Submission to the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs
Civil Union Bill (B26-2006)
The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference welcomes the opportunity to make a submission on such an important piece of legislation. Participation in the formulation of policy and legislation is an essential part of the democratic process and we would thus like to commend Parliament and this Committee in particular, for the way in which it has encouraged public participation.
We understand that the Constitutional Court judgment in December of last year obliges Parliament to remedy what the Court deemed to be an inequality in our law, and that our comments would be most apposite in a debate on whether or not the lack of recognition of same sex unions is indeed an inequality or not. However, Parliament is the body which legislates for and on behalf of our people as a whole, and it is therefore fitting that we should address our concerns about the Court’s decision to Parliament and, thereby, also make our views on the matter more widely known.
The Teaching of the Church
The Catholic Church teaches that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They 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." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par.2357. see also Romans 1: 24-27; 1 Corinthians 6:10; 1 Timothy 1:10) While the Church says that homosexual ACTS are intrinsically evil, it does not say this about homosexual PERSONS. On the contrary, it states clearly that "it is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in word and action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs" (Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons: Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, October 1986).
Because homosexual acts are against the natural law, homosexual unions are also contrary to this same law. They undermine the very nature of marriage and the family as ordained by the Creator of all, the One to whom all of us are ultimately responsible and to whom we will have to answer for our actions.
The Nature of Marriage and its Unchanging Characteristics
Marriage is God’s gift to the world that he made. It can be described as "a faithful, exclusive, lifelong union of a man and a woman joined in an intimate community of life and love." The Book of Genesis gives three fundamental elements of God’s plan for marriage:
Genesis 1:27 says "God created man in the image of Himself, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them." Because we are created in His image, "sexuality is by no means something purely biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and a woman commit themselves totally to one another until death. The total physical self-giving would be a lie if it were not the sign and fruit of a total personal self-giving" (On the Christian Family in the Modern World: Pope John Paul II, 1981: No.11)
Secondly, marriage comes from the Creator: "that is why a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife, and they become one body" (Genesis 2:24). God intended it to be an intimate partnership of life and love. Husband and wife are equal but different. They compliment each other spiritually, mentally and physically. God made them different from but at the same time for each other.
Thirdly, God gave man and woman a unique part in His creation: "God blessed them, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth" (Genesis 1:28). This means that the mutual and total giving and sharing of husband and wife in love is, of its very nature, ordered towards the procreation and rearing of children and the continuance of the human race.
Jesus confirmed these teachings of Genesis. He said "But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. This is why a man must leave father and mother, and the two become one body. They no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide" (Mark 10: 6-8). Furthermore, the Catholic Church teaches that the valid marriage between baptised Christians is a sacrament, a visible and affective sign of God’s grace at work in the lives of husband and wife and children. Marriage becomes, for all to see, a living symbol of the total love of Christ for His Church (see Ephesians 5: 25-33) and a way to God for the couple who live in love.
The natural law, sometimes called "natural revelation", is part of human nature as created by God and an integral component of the common heritage of the human race, of every tribe and people. Sacred Scripture is "Divine Revelation", God revealing Himself and the mystery of His will to mankind. This revelation has been faithfully handed down to us, the men and women of today. We contend that both the law of nature and Divine Revelation (and the constant teaching of the Church) make it clear that a homosexual union is in no way similar to marriage:
marriage was given to us by God, is expressly willed by God and is compared by St Paul to the union of Christ and His Church; homosexual acts are against the natural law and are intrinsically disordered
marriage of its very nature is ordained to the begetting and rearing of children; homosexual acts divorce the sexual act from procreation and the homosexual couple cannot cooperate with God to give new life
man and woman were made by God in His image and as male and female they complement each other; this unique complementarity which makes conjugal love possible is absent in homosexual unions.
Reasons to Safeguard Marriage an Exclusive Union of Man and Woman
What follows flows from what has been said above. It is a summary of the reasons for the Catholic Church’s opposition to the legalizing of same-sex unions.
It is against the Natural Law
We agree that civil law and moral law are two different things but we also say that man-made laws cannot legitimize what is against the natural moral law. Civil law cannot make what is wrong right.
It undermines the Family
Across cultures and different religious beliefs, marriage is the foundation of the family and these cultures and religions see marriage as a loving and lasting relationship between a man and a woman, a relationship that is open to new life and the future of the human race.
It undermines the Foundations of Society and is against the Common Good
Again, across different religious beliefs and cultures, the family is seen as the basic unit of society. Society owes its continued survival to the family, founded on marriage. Giving legal recognition to same sex unions would in effect redefine marriage. The very concept of marriage and family would undergo radical transformation. The basic institution of the family has already been weakened by a multiplicity of factors. The cost to society of recognizing same-sex unions as in any way equivalent to marriage would be very high indeed. Legislation bearing on moral issues must be assessed in the light of the way in which they contribute to the common good of society. Marriage as we know it is recognized by the State because it contributes to this common good. Homosexual unions do not exercise this function for the common good and so should not be so recognized.
It is against the Good of Children
The family provides the best conditions for rearing children, the family being the stable, loving relationship between a married father and mother. Children who might be placed in the care of a same-sex couple would be deprived of the experience of either fatherhood or motherhood. This would be a grave injustice to these children who would be compelled to grow up in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development.
It gives the Wrong Message
Laws play an educational role. When is permitted by law, socially patterns of thought and behaviour change. What is "legal" becomes permissible and acceptable. Legalising same-sex unions would give public approval to homosexual activity and this activity would then become morally neutral.
Response to some Objections
(i) The Question of Discrimination
We stated in our introduction that the Catholic Church deplores homophobia. Homosexual persons have a right to be treated with respect by individuals and by society. In fact they may have even a greater right because they are more vulnerable. Here, however, we are speaking about giving legal status to homosexual unions which, we maintain, are not marital and do not contribute to the common good of society. The legal recognition of marriage, including the benefits associated with it, is not only about personal commitment that husband and wife make to the well-being of society. Justice itself demands that it would be wrong to redefine marriage for the sake of providing benefits to those who cannot rightly enter into marriage. Some of these benefits can be obtained in other ways. For example, any two individuals can agree to own property jointly or to choose a beneficiary for their will. These benefits could be extended by provisions that would not amount to a re-definition of marriage.
The Autonomy and Freedom of the Individual
It is true that each individual has basic human rights and can engage in those activities that interest them. But individual men and women live in society and the exercise of individual freedoms has to be balanced against the common good of that society. Moreover, it is one thing to say that the state should not put unnecessary limits on individual freedom; it is something very different to say that the state should give legal recognition to a relationship that does not make a significant or positive contribution to the development of the human person in society.
Society has Changed
People who argue in favour of legalizing same-sex unions say that society has changed since biblical times and that it has changed radically in recent years, and that the law should take these changes into account. It is true that society has changed radically, but it is equally true that nothing can change the natural law or the revealed law of God. "No ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists between a man and a woman who, by mutual personal gift, proper and exclusive to themselves, tend towards the communion of their persons. In this way they mutually perfect each other, in order to cooperate with God in the procreation and upbringing of new human life" (Considerations Regarding Proposals to give Legal Recognition to Union between Homosexual Persons: Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, June 2003, par.2).
As said already, a law cannot make what is wrong right. It is also true that there has been a change in society’s attitude to marriage and the family, and even to homosexual activity in society. But it is equally true that the high esteem in which marriage and family are held has not diminished. Marriage is still seen as the best context in which to raise a family and, in spite of a high divorce rate, couples still sincerely pledge their love "until death do them part".
We conclude with the words of the document already quoted, Considerations regarding Proposals to give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons, a document that was signed by Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) with the explicit approval of the late Pope John Paul II. The Conclusion reads:
The Church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or legal recognition of homosexual unions. The common good requires that laws recognize, promote and protect marriage as the basis of the family, the primary unity of society. Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behaviour, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity. The Church cannot fail to defend these values, for the good of men and women and for the good of society itself.
Wilfrid Cardinal Napier
President: Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference