Marriage & Same-Sex Attraction (5)
The Common Good & Human Dignity
1. What does “intrinsic dignity of the human person” mean?
2. What does marriage have to do with human dignity?
3. Does the Church believe that people who experience same-sex attraction have equal dignity with heterosexual persons?
4. What does “the common good” mean?
5. Isn’t marriage a private relationship? What does it have to do with the common good?
6. Isn’t marriage just about love and commitment?
7. Isn’t marriage just a religious issue that the government should stay out of?
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1. WHAT DOES “INTRINSIC DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN PERSON” MEAN?
The Church teaches that each and every human being is a unique and irreplaceable person, created in the image of God (see Gen 1:27). Because of this, every man, woman, and child has great dignity and worth, a dignity that can never be taken away (i.e., it is intrinsic and inviolable). Respecting a person’s dignity means treating them justly. It also means helping them to flourish as a human being. The intrinsic dignity of the human person should be the starting point for all moral principles.
2. WHAT DOES MARRIAGE HAVE TO DO WITH HUMAN DIGNITY?
Marriage protects and promotes the dignity of men and women, the dignity of children, and the dignity of all persons in society. First, the lifelong partnership of marriage is the only place where men and women can truly “speak” the language of sexual love – total, faithful, forever, and open to children. Only within marriage can sexual relations mean what they are supposed to mean as an expression of self-giving love between a man and a woman (not selfish use of each other’s body). The promises of a husband and a wife speak a high level of mutual trust and invite the confidence that sex will not be exploitative but will manifest true union and life-giving love. Second, marriage provides a context within which the rights of children to a mother and a father are legally protected. Marriage also helps assure that children will be welcomed as gifts; apart from the life-long commitment of marriage, children are likely to be viewed as threats or acquired as products. Finally, the family, founded on marriage, is a place where a person can exist for his or her own sake (see LF, no. 11). Marriages teach society not to value persons only for their usefulness.
3. DOES THE CHURCH BELIEVE THAT PEOPLE WHO EXPERIENCE SAME-SEX ATTRACTION HAVE EQUAL DIGNITY WITH HETEROSEXUAL PERSONS?
Of course! Every single human person has inviolable dignity and worth, including those who experience same-sex attraction. All persons should be treated with respect, sensitivity, and love. The Church calls everyone to a life of holiness and chastity, and to live in accord with God’s will for their lives.
4. WHAT DOES “THE COMMON GOOD” MEAN?
Quoting Pope Benedict XVI, the common good is “the good of all of us”, the good of every member of society. A society focused on the common good upholds the fundamental dignity of each person, and progresses “from less human conditions to those which are more human.” In short, the common good is “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily” (GS 26).
5. ISN’T MARRIAGE A PRIVATE RELATIONSHIP? WHAT DOES IT HAVE TO DO WITH THE COMMON GOOD?
Marriage is a personal relationship, but not a private one. In fact, marriages play a crucial role in society. By publicly joining hands in marriage, husband and wife enter into a unique communion and sharing of their whole lives that not only joins their distinct families into one, fostering greater connections between people, but also provides the essential context for welcoming new human life. By being open to children, each marriage is the foundation of a new family, rightly called the “key cell” of society (CCC 2207-2213). In fact, because of its procreative aspect, marriage can be said to be the very source of society (CSDC 214), the “cradle of life and love” (CSDC 209). Furthermore, both the irrevocable bond that unites husband and wife in marriage, as well as the sacrificial love that fathers and mothers show their children, create a “dynamic of love” that makes the family the “first and irreplaceable school of social life” (CSDC 221). By practicing loving interdependence, husband and wife teach society to reject individualism and seek the common good for all. In modelling love and communion by welcoming and raising new human life and by taking care of the weak, sick and old, marriages and families provide social stability and thus foster the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity.
6. ISN’T MARRIAGE JUST ABOUT LOVE AND COMMITMENT?
We need to stop pretending that marriage doesn’t involve children. Marriage is the platform that helps to enable children to have a stable home life with their own biological mother and father. Pretending that changing marriage won’t have a massive impact on children is irresponsible. Same-sex “marriage” means that some children won’t grow up with their biological parents and that the government supports this unjust arrangement. That’s the opposite of what most Australians think children are entitled to.
7. ISN’T MARRIAGE JUST A RELIGIOUS ISSUE THAT THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD STAY OUT OF?
No. The social value of marriage is great and is apparent even to those who do not share the Catholic understanding of its religious meaning. Marriage as a lifelong, faithful, and fruitful union between husband and wife serves the good of all – it serves the good of the spouses, the good of the children who may issue from their marital union, and the good of society in assuring that reproduction happens in a socially responsible way.
To be sure, these goods are affirmed and reinforced by most religions. But they do not rely on any religious premises; they are based instead on the nature of the human person. The government has the responsibility of promoting the common good and the best interests of all people, especially the most vulnerable, and upholding authentic marriage does precisely that. The fact that the responsibility of government to promote and protect marriage coincides with widely held religious convictions is not a reason for government to abdicate that responsibility.
List of Abbreviations
CA – Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Centesimus Annus (1991)
CCC – Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (2000)
CDF 1986 – Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual persons (1986)
CDF 1992 – Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Some Considerations Concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons (1992)
CV – Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Caritas in Veritate (2009)
CSDC – Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (2004)
DH – Second Vatican Council, Declaration Dignitatis Humanae (1965)
FC – Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (1982)
GS – Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes (1965)
LF – Pope John Paul II, Letter to Families (1994)
LL – USCCB, Pastoral Letter Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (2009)
PP – Pope Paul VI, Encyclical Populorum Progressio (1967)
RN – Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891)
TOB – Pope John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, trans. Michael Waldstein (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006). Other English versions are available online at EWTN’s website and at the Vatican website.
The official (Magisterial) teaching of the Catholic Church on Homosexuality and Marriage is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1993) , and in three documents of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:
Catechism of the Catholic Church: The Sacrament of Matrimony
Download from link: CCC – The Sacrament of Matrimony
Catechism of the Catholic Church: The Sixth Commandment (Especially Paragraphs 2357-2359)
Download from link: CCC – The Sixth Commandment
Declaration on Certain Questions of Sexual Ethics: (CDF, 1975)
Download from link: Declaration on Sexual Ethics
Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of the Homosexual Person (CDF, 1986):
Download from link: Pastoral Care of Homosexual persons
Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons (CDF, 2003)
Download from link: Legal Recognition of Homosexual Unions
In May 2015, the Catholic Bishops of Australia issued a Pastoral Letter “to all Australians” on the ‘Same-sex Marriage’ Debate, entitled “Don’t mess with Marriage”. This summarises why the Catholic Church opposes moves to broaden the legal definition of marriage to include ‘same-sex’ relationships.
A Pastoral Letter from the Catholic Bishops of Australia to all Australians on the ‘Same-sex Marriage’ Debate
Download from link: ‘Same-sex’ Marriage Pastoral Letter
The following submissions by the Catholic Church in Australia to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s Inquiry into the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010 also elaborate on Catholic Church teaching on marriage and same-sex attraction.
Submission 113: His Eminence Cardinal George Pell AC, Archbishop of Sydney
Download from link: (PDF 4791KB)
Submission 5: Opening Statement tabled by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference at public hearing on Thursday 3 May 2012
Download from link: (PDF 1073KB)
Submission 234: Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
>Download from link: (PDF 113KB)
Catholic Teaching on Marriage is summarised in the following “Frequently Asked Questions” Booklet.
Marriage in the Catholic Church: Frequently Asked Questions Bishops Commission for Pastoral Life, 2006.
Download from link: Marriage in the Catholic Church
Other Non Catholic Church References
Regnerus, Mark: How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study. Social Science Research 41 (2012) 752–770.