Marriage & Same-Sex Attraction (3)

(Frequently Asked Questions Part 3 of 10)

The Meaning of Marriage & Sexual Difference


1, Why does the Catholic Church care so much about marriage?

2. Marriage: What’s a good starting point?

3. Where does marriage come from?

4. What is gender difference?

5. What is complementarity between the sexes?

6. Why does a person’s gender matter for marriage?

7. How is the love between a husband and wife unique?

8. Isn’t marriage just about love and commitment between two people?

9. Why can’t the Church accept that marriage in Australia includes two men or two women?



The Catholic Church cares about marriage because it is a fundamental good in itself. Therefore, in a sense, it could be seen as one of the major social justice issues of our time. This is at two levels, individual and public.

At a personal level, marriage is based on the nature of the human person and on what provides each person with a fulfilling existence. Following the example of Jesus, the Church cares about the whole person, and about each person. The Church is concerned because people all over the world are suffering from of the breakdown of the family – divorce, out-of-wedlock childbearing, and so on.

However, marriage is never just a private issue; it has public significance and public consequences. In addition, the proposal to redefine marriage to include two men or two women is really a proposal to redefine the human person, causing a forgetfulness of what it means to be a man or a woman. This is a basic injustice to men and women, children, and fathers and mothers. Marriage is truly one of the most important social justice issues of our time.



To understand what marriage is, the best place to start is with the human person. We must ask, “What does it mean to be a human person, as a man or as a woman?” First, men and women are created in the image of God. This means that they have great dignity and worth. Also, since “God is love” , each person – created in God’s image – finds his or her fulfilment by loving others. Second, men and women are body-persons. The body – male or female – is an essential part of being human. Gender is not an afterthought or a mere social construct. The body shapes what it means to love as a human person. At a fundamental natural level, the male and female genitalia are complementary – human persons, male and female, have evolved as sexual beings whereby the male genitalia, the penis, is fitting for the female genitalia, the vagina. Human persons have evolved such that male-female genital sexual intercourse can, at given times in the female ovulatory cycle, result in the generation of new life. Male-male or female-female sexual interaction is, by nature, sterile – it is alien to evolution and contrary to nature.

To sum up, when we think about marriage, we must think about who the human person is – created with great dignity, and called to love as a body-person, male or female.



Marriage is inherently present in humanity. It is not something thought up by any human society or by any religion – rather, it springs from who the human person is, as male and female. Society and religion affirm and reinforce this self-evident reality. The truth of marriage is therefore something that can be understood by everyone, regardless of whether or not they hold religious beliefs. Both faith and reason speak to the true meaning of marriage.

In the Catholic understanding, marriage, the free, faithful, permanent and fruitful sexual bonding of a man and a woman, is an icon of the Trinitarian God . “God himself is the author of marriage” . When God created human persons in God’s own image, as male and female, God placed in their hearts the desire to love – to give themselves totally to another person.




Gender difference is the difference of man to woman and woman to man. It affects a person at every level of his or her existence: genetically, biologically, emotionally, psychologically, and socially. It is a difference written indelibly in a person’s genetic make-up. There are many characteristics of each human person that are genetically determined and which lead to inherent differences from others, such as the colour of eyes. However, gender difference is more than inherent. It is also the only difference that allows for the total personal union between husband and wife that is at the heart of marriage and which has the potential to generate new life. The difference between men and women is for the sake of their union with each other and for the possibility of procreation. It is what makes spousal union possible.



Complementarity refers to the unique – and fruitful – relationship between men and women. Both men and women are created in the image of God. Both have great dignity and worth. But equality does not mean sameness: a man is not a woman, and a woman is not a man. Instead, “male and female are distinct bodily ways of being human, of being open to God and to one another” . Because men and women are complementary, they bring different gifts to a relationship. In marriage, the complementarity of husband and wife is expressed very clearly in the act of conjugal love, having children, and fathering and mothering –actions that call for the collaboration – and unique gifts – of husband and wife.




Gender matters for marriage because the body matters for love. My body is not simply the shape of my skin. Instead, my identity as a person (my “I”) is inseparable from the reality of my body – I am a body-person. As Pope John Paul II said, the body reveals the person. It is a deeply personal reality, not just a biological fact. The body is taken up into every human action, including the most important task of all: loving. Loving as a human person means loving as a man or as a woman. Marriage, the primary form of human love , necessarily involves the reality of men and women as body-persons. Marriage is intrinsically opposite-sex. To write off the body, and gender, as unimportant to marriage means treating the body as inconsequential or, at best, as an object or tool to be used according to one’s pleasure, instead of as an essential and beautiful aspect of being human and loving as a human person. Such a write-off would ignore the very essence of what the human person is.




The love between a husband and a wife involves a mutual gift of self that is free, total and faithful. This gift of self and the acceptance of the other are real, because they are based on the recognition of the complementary .otherness and on the totality of the act which expresses them. The gift of the body is a real sign of self- giving at the level of the persons. It not only expresses love, but also opens the spouses to receive the gift of a child. No other human interaction on earth is like this. This is why sexual intimacy should be reserved for married love – marriage is the only context wherein sex between a man and a woman can speak the true language of self-gift … total self-donation that is potentially fertile, potentially life-generating.

On the other hand, sexual behaviour between two men or two women can never arrive at the fertile oneness experienced between husband and wife, nor can these acts be life-giving. In fact, it is impossible for two persons of the same sex to make such a total fruitful gift of self to each other as a husband and a wife do, bodily and personally. No relationship between two persons of the same sex can ever be held up as equal or analogous to the relationship between husband and wife.



Of course love and commitment are important for marriage – as they are for many relationships. However, marriage is unique because the love and commitment of the married relationship has a physical expression from which can come a third, the child – a new life to be welcomed and raised in love. No same-sex relationship, no matter how loving or committed, can have this unique form of fruitful communion that exists in marriage between a husband and a wife.



The word marriage isn’t simply a label that can be attached to different types of relationships. Instead, marriage reflects a deep reality – the reality of the unique, fruitful union, potentially able to generate a new life, which is only possible between a man and a woman. It is impossible for two persons of the same sex through their sexual activity to generate new life. The attempt to redefine marriage to include two persons of the same sex denies the reality of what marriage is. A circle can never be a square. Calling a circle a square does not make it a square. It just creates confusion.



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.



Key References

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.


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