Archbishop John Dew
Throughout the world the question of ‘same-sex marriages’ is being debated. In our own country some Members of Parliament are working on a Definition of Marriage Bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry and have equal status with married couples. Other moves are to review the adoption laws and allow same-sex couples to adopt.
Some people in our society claim that it is their right to ‘marry’ as same-sex couples and to adopt children. However, it needs to be recognised that what we know as marriage is so different that it is actually an injustice to treat it the same as a civil union.
It cannot be claimed as a right for same-sex couples to marry and to adopt children. This is not a matter of equality with married couples, but rather a recognition that the purpose of each is quite different. Marriage of a man and woman, of its nature, is open to new life in children born of the mutual gift of love.
The Church fully endorses The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948): ‘Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family’ (Art 16).
The Church’s teaching takes this a step further: ‘The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator … God himself is the author of marriage’ (Vatican II, GS #48).
Many people around the world and here in New Zealand are confused about marriage. Governments are debating the question, and some countries have already passed laws allowing same-sex couples to ‘marry’.
However, as Catholics we are clear about what marriage is. Marriage, as the Sydney Bishops said recently, ‘is more than having one’s love for another legally recognised’. *Some same-sex couples are looking for this, as well as protection of property and inheritance. This can happen in New Zealand through a civil union, as defined in the Civil Union Act 2004, which guarantees civil rights essential to human dignity. But the Act does not equate a civil union with marriage or confer the ‘right’ to adopt children.
Same-sex relationships, even when publicly recognised in a civil union, are different from marriage. It is not a question of unjust discrimination against those who freely choose to enter into a civil union, but states simply that a civil union is not a marriage.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights continues: ‘The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State’ (Art 16 cont).
The Church has constantly called on governments to fulfil this duty to protect the family as the fundamental group unit of society.
The family, across very diverse cultural practices based on strong stable and happy marriages, plays a unique role in bringing children to birth and then providing the best environment in which children can be nurtured and educated. It has always been understood that Marriage and Family ensure the well-being of society, now and in the future.
As the debate gathers momentum in New Zealand, we all need to be prepared to speak up about the meaning of Christian marriage: a life-long commitment between a man and a woman.
The Bishops of Sydney* offer us a two-fold challenge: ‘Men and women who are homosexual and those in same-sex relationships must be treated with compassion, respect and sensitivity. However, it does not respect or serve anyone to deny them the right to the truth about what marriage is and about what the Church teaches on sexuality and marriage.’
The Church is deeply concerned to call people to an awareness of the dignity of marriage as both a fundamental institution of society and as a Sacrament of the Church. If we are to bring about a world which is loving and life-giving, it is imperative to protect and foster the intimate love and the ability to give new life which lies at the core of marriage and family life.