August 6, 2010

The U.S. Bishops' Between Man and Woman Questions and Answers About Marriage and Same-Sex Unions

In November 2003, the U.S. bishops approved a restatement of long-held Catholic beliefs about marriage. The statement is a response to a growing movement in U.S. society to recognize homosexual unions as legal, married unions. Within a month of the bishops' meeting, for example, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that same-sex unions can be equated with marriage. The U.S. bishops' statement, while it upholds marriage, does not condemn homosexual people. It points out, rather, the ancient and sacred character of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

In the news conference releasing the document, Bishop Kevin J. Boland of Savannah, head of the bishops' Committee on Marriage and Family Life, pointed out the reasons for the document. First and foremost, the bishops realize that we are in a social debate about marriage, he said, an area about which the Church has a "core belief." The statement is meant to "draw upon reason and faith in order to identify the nature and purposes of marriage and thereby to demonstrate why a same-sex union can never be equated with marriage." That said, the statement does not attempt to be a "detailed theological treatise, public policy statement or legal argument." In fact, said Bishop Boland, "It does not even present a complete catechesis on marriage or homosexuality." In short, the bishops' statement is an attempt to introduce some key Church themes into this debate in a way that everyday people can understand. The full text of the U.S. bishops' statement follows.

Full Text of the Bishops' Statement

A growing movement today favors making those relationships commonly called same-sex unions the legal equivalent of marriage. This situation challenges Catholics—and all who seek the truth—to think deeply about the meaning of marriage, its purposes, and its value to individuals, families, and society. This kind of reflection, using reason and faith, is an appropriate starting point and framework for the current debate.

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.

1. What is marriage?

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 into the world and caring for them. The call to marriage is woven deeply into the human spirit. Man and woman are equal. However, as created, they are different from but made for each other. This complementarity, including sexual difference, draws them together in a mutually loving union that should be always open to the procreation of children (see Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], nos. 1602-1605).

These truths about marriage are present in the order of nature and can be perceived by the light of human reason. They have been confirmed by divine Revelation in Sacred Scripture.

2. What does our faith tell us about marriage?

Marriage comes from the loving hand of God, who fashioned both male and female in the divine image (see Gn 1:27). A man "leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body" (Gn 2:24). The man recognizes the woman as "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Gn 2:23). God blesses the man and woman and commands them to "be fertile and multiply" (Gn 1:28). Jesus reiterates these teachings from Genesis, saying, "But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother [and be joined to his wife], and the two shall become one flesh'" (Mk 10:6-8).

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. Jesus Christ made marriage a symbol of his love for his Church (see Eph 5:25-33). 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. A true marriage in the Lord with his grace will bring the spouses to holiness. Their love, manifested in fidelity, passion, fertility, generosity, sacrifice, forgiveness, and healing, makes known God's love in their family, communities, and society. This Christian meaning confirms and strengthens the human value of a marital union (see CCC, nos. 1612-1617; 1641-1642)... to be continued.

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