Have questions about the Church’s support of marriage?
The Meaning of Marriage
The question of marriage: Where’s a good starting point?
Discussion about the meaning of marriage today affects many people in different ways. The Church recognizes that this can be a difficult and emotional issue, especially for persons who experience same-sex attraction and for their families and friends. It is thus important always to consider the human person. Every person, male and female, is made in the image and likeness of God. Every person is of incomparable worth and has intrinsic dignity—a dignity that can never be taken away. Therefore, all persons deserve love and respect. In particular, any lack of respect, compassion, or sensitivity towards persons with a homosexual inclination is unacceptable. The protection and promotion of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is and must always be found within this context of love and respect for all persons.
When the Church teaches difficult truths, she follows in the way of Christ. Christ shows us that truth and love go together and are the way to freedom. The Church reaches out with pastoral care and concern to all persons with same-sex attraction. She calls all people to a life of holy fulfillment, that is, to a deeper and fuller union with Jesus Christ. As support along the way in a life of chastity and virtue, the Church speaks to the importance and great good of healthy and holy friendships, family and community support, prayer and sacramental grace. Not only does the Church uphold the dignity and value of each human person; she offers, through the salvation found in Christ and the new divine life of the Holy Spirit, the supernatural help by which each person is able to live as a true son or daughter of the Father created in the authentic image of his own Son. (More.)
Affirming the dignity of every person is a crucial starting point. This is especially the case with marriage, whose meaning is linked with the meaning and dignity of the human person, created as male and female. Though it might be difficult for some to see initially, affirming the true meaning of marriage always affirms the true meaning and dignity of every person.
Can marriage be redefined? (What is marriage?)
In essence, no. Marriage is the most time-honored and time-tested institution on the face of the earth, and it has a particular meaning that is unchangeable, beyond cultural variances and even attempts to change it. Marriage is the permanent and exclusive union of one man and one woman, a bond ordered to love and life. This is what marriage is. It’s not arbitrary or made up. Rather, marriage is grounded in the nature and identity of the human person, created by God as man and woman. This basic truth of marriage is accessible to everyone and is unchangeable.
Attempts to legally “redefine” marriage are like trying to “redefine” the human person. Such attempts can only be dangerous and harmful to the person and society. No matter how deeply felt, these attempts essentially are games that not only play with words but with truths and institutions central to what it means to be a human person. Marriage is the fundamental institution for life and love. It deserves to be protected, promoted, and strengthened. Redefining marriage to include persons of the same sex would strip marriage of its essential reference to sexual difference. This difference is the foundation for the two-in-one-flesh communion of persons, the unique model of spousal love, openness to children and fruitful love, and mothering and fathering.
Do one man and one woman really matter for marriage?
Yes. Not only do they matter, but one man and one woman are essential to marriage. The difference is the difference. A man is made for a woman, and a woman is made for a man—psychologically, physically, emotionally, biologically, genetically… True union is only possible in and through their difference. It’s like water: Water depends on the difference between hydrogen and oxygen which come together to form water. Marriage depends on the difference between man and woman who come together to form a marriage.
Isn’t commitment what’s important in marriage?
Commitment is an important aspect of many relationships. However, commitment in marriage is unique and needs specific ingredients. It’s built upon the difference of husband and wife, who are made to form a unique commitment—a communion in fact where the two really become one. The lifelong and exclusive commitment of marriage has its own, essential form which is imbued throughout the whole relationship—the form of spousal love, of husband to wife and wife to husband.
It’s not because persons who experience same-sex attraction have any less dignity as persons. All persons have intrinsic dignity as created in the image of God, a dignity that cannot be erased. Same-sex “marriage” is impossible because marriage can only be a bond between a man and a woman. Marriage by its nature involves a language of love and life which can only be spoken by a husband to his wife and a wife to her husband. “Conjugal” love is “spousal,” husband to wife and wife to husband. It depends upon the difference. A man cannot give to (or receive from) another man, nor can a woman give to another woman, what spouses uniquely give to and receive from each other. The bodies of a man and a woman show plainly the deeper truth that their entire persons are for the other, for a person different than their own self. The vows of marriage speak of an exclusivity, permanence, total self-gift, and openness to life which is only possible in the unique interrelationship of husband and wife.
What does the Church say about persons who experience same-sex attraction?
The Church reaches out with pastoral care and concern to all persons who experience same-sex attraction and teaches that every person has inherent dignity. The Church also acknowledges the challenges and difficulties persons who experience same-sex attraction can face. “The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. […] They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition” (CCC, no. 2357).
The Catechism also teaches: “Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection” (CCC, no. 2359).
For more information on the call to chastity and the life of virtue, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 2337-2359. For more on the Church’s ministry to persons with a homosexual inclination, including information about the importance of true friendships, family, community, and growth in holiness, see USCCB, Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination (2006).
What does the Church teach about other forms of same-sex unions?
First, marriage, as the union of one man and one woman, is a unique good in itself. Nothing compares to the relationship between a husband and a wife which is ordered to love and the procreation and education of children (openness to life, to fruitful love). Other relationships are not the same and should not be treated as analogous to the unique bond of marriage.
Second, any sexual relationship or sexual activity outside of marriage is always false and unjust, and thus morally wrong and sinful. Sex only makes sense within marriage between a man and a woman. Sex is made to speak a language of total self-gift. Outside of the context of marriage, sex cannot speak the full truth and becomes a lie. In such situations, one would be objectively saying something that really is not true: “I give myself completely to you, but not really.” Because sex is ordered to conjugal love (i.e., the love of husband and wife), all sexual activity outside of or not ordered to conjugal love is morally wrong and harmful.
This isn’t a big “no” from the Church but rather a great “YES” in affirmation of the truth and beauty of the human person, human sexuality, chastity, and marriage. In this affirmation, the Church teaches that any relationship among persons of the same-sex that is made to be analogous to marriage is false and unjust, and hence legal recognition of such relationships (e.g., “civil unions” and “domestic partnerships”) is unjust and morally wrong as it is contrary to the dignity of the human person, the common good, and the truth of marriage and the family which the state is bound to serve (cf. Catholic Conference of Illinois, Promoting Civil Unions to Undermine Marriage ). There are many ways to protect basic human rights, but they should never come at the cost of the uniqueness of marriage and spousal love, the rights of children, and the responsibilities of spouses and mothers and fathers.
But isn’t the meaning of marriage just a matter of faith?
No. The basic meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is grounded in the nature of the human person, as man and woman. In other words, it’s accessible to human reason. People of any religion or no religion at all can see the truth of marriage. Reason and faith go together. Faith illuminates reason but does not disregard it. When it comes to believing in the sacramental reality of marriage between the baptized, then faith is involved … with reason but not against it. The sacramental builds upon the natural; grace builds upon or perfects nature. The basic elements of marriage cut across the distinction between marriage as a natural or sacramental bond. Sexual difference is essential to marriage.
What is sexual difference?
Sexual difference is the difference of man to woman and woman to man. It’s more than simple biology: sexual difference is manifest genetically, biologically, physiologically, psychologically, culturally, and socially. The difference is the difference. Sexual difference forms the basis and essential matrix for marriage. Without it, one cannot speak of marriage. Everyone is called to accept their sexual identity as a gift, essential to who they are.
What is complementarity?
Complementarity refers to the unique and fruitful relationship between the sexes, man to woman and woman to man. Through their difference, man and woman complement each other by bringing their own distinctive person to the relationship. In marriage, this complementarity shines in every aspect of the spouses’ relationship, especially when it comes to making love and having children. As parents, a mother and a father bring distinctive gifts to their children, allowing for a full context for personal formation.
Is the Church just concerned about biology?
Absolutely not, though biology is important. Sexual difference, man to woman and woman to man, is about the person. It’s more than simple biology or social construct: sexual difference is manifest genetically, biologically, physiologically, psychologically, culturally, and socially. In today’s society, we might be tempted to separate the body from the person, treating the body as if it were “merely biological.” However, we are body-persons. We don’t merely have bodies. The body reveals the person. It’s so connected to who we are that we can say that we are our bodies.
What’s so special about spousal love?
Spousal love is the love between husband and wife. This love has the capacity to bring about new life and is the unique model of communion between the two sexes, man and woman. Spousal love is at the center of the family, the larger community, and society at large. As its natural foundation, the love between husband and wife forms the cornerstone of the “school of love” which is the family.
Jesus has raised the love between husband and wife to a new level as an efficacious sign (i.e., a sacrament) of his love for the Church. Therefore, spouses who are baptized live a life of love in which shines forth the very love of Christ for his Church. The intimate heart of the history of salvation—its very center in Christ laying down his life for his Bride, the Church—is now truly visible (with the eyes of faith) in the sacrament of marriage. This is why married love has so much significance for the communion among peoples and is why it is called a “Sacrament at the Service of Communion and Mission” (cf. Compendium to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 321).
What’s so important about the body?
We are our body. We don’t just have a body. As persons, we are a unity of body and soul (cf. CCC, nos. 362-368). The body reveals the person; it’s essential to who we are. Through the body, we come to know ourselves and others. The body reveals who we are as either male or female. It’s a deeply personal reality, not just physical or biological. The body is the door to the mystery of the whole person, though certainly the person should not be “reduced to” the body. Today, there is the tendency to either devalue the significance of the body (e.g., when the body is ignored in matters of sexual identity and love and chastity) or exaggerate the body to such a degree (e.g., when bodily health becomes the most important value of one’s life, trumping moral and spiritual values) that the true meaning of the person and hence of the body are missed. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is important here (see below).
What is the Theology of the Body?
The Theology of the Body (TOB) refers originally to the series of Wednesday General Audiences which the Venerable Servant of God Pope John Paul II delivered within the period from September 5, 1979 to November 29, 1984, as catecheses on human love in the divine plan. In his catecheses, the Holy Father took as his fundamental reference point Christ himself. When asked about marriage, Christ pointed back to the beginning, to creation: “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator created them male and female and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and unite with his wife, and the two will be one flesh’? So it is that they are no longer two, but one flesh” (Mt 19:4-6) The Holy Father’s contribution towards a renewed understanding and appreciation of the human person created as man and woman is immense. Many materials and resources are available to help explore and unpack TOB. (Cf. John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, trans. Michael Waldstein [Boston: Pauline, 2006].)
If marriage is so good, why can’t everyone have it?
The more accurate question is: If marriage is so good, why would we want to “redefine” it? But to answer the original question:
First, because then it would make the very good of marriage meaningless, as it were. Marriage is not good merely for the benefits it brings to spouses and the positive impact it has on society. These things are all goods, but they are consequences that come from the good which marriage is in itself. The bond of love and life shared by husband and wife is simply good. Marriage is good because of what it is, as the union of a man and a woman. Based on the good of this union, marriage is thus ordered towards the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children, and thus stands in service to human dignity and the common good.
Second, through the ages it has been understood that not just any two people can get married. For example: immediate family members cannot get married, such as a father and a daughter; an adult cannot marry a minor, etc. These protections recognize the unique good of marriage. A similar rationale undergirds the protection of marriage as the union of one man and one woman in the face of attempts to “redefine” marriage to include persons of the same sex. Such attempts empty marriage of its meaning and its intrinsic value. Marriage would no longer be the unique bond of husband and wife; it would no longer be fundamentally open to the child; it would no longer be the context for mothering and fathering.
Since marriage is so good, it needs to be preserved and strengthened, not watered down and redefined.
The Good of Children:
Where does the child fit in regarding marriage?
In the center of it all. For aeons marriage has been recognized as the fundamental institution for life. The child has a privileged place—or should have—in any consideration of marriage. However, more recently, understandings about marriage have largely reflected an “adultocentric” vision, with little to no regard for the child and the responsibility of parenting, that is, mothering and fathering. The child has often become a pawn or instrument at the expense of adult wishes. A vision of marriage which sees the child as inessential for considering the nature and responsibilities of marriage is fundamentally flawed and drastically at odds with the testimony of the ages.
Preserving and promoting marriage means preserving and promoting the fundamental place of the child in society. The child deserves the love of a father and a mother, to grow up within a home formed by the love of husband and wife, to grow up and learn what it means to be either a man or a woman. Society needs children and needs an attitude that is respectful and welcoming towards life. Only within such an attitude can all women and men find the respect and affirmation they deserve as persons. To welcome the child is to welcome hope. To preserve the truth of marriage is to protect this hope, this gift of the child, and hence the gift that every person is.
What about married couples that are unable to have children of their own? How are they open to life or “open to the child”?
When a husband and wife promise their lives to each other, they also promise to be open to life: open to welcoming a child if they are so blessed, and committed to loving in a responsible and fruitful way which does nothing deliberately to cut off the chance for life. Some couples may never be blessed with children of their own, and elderly couples who marry later in life are not able or expected to have children. With these couples, their openness to life is manifest in fruitful service, example and witness, including adoption and foster care. The key is that all married couples are meant to be open to life, open to the child, open to the gift—such openness and fruitfulness are part and parcel of conjugal love (cf. CCC, nos. 2366-2379).
Does the child really have rights?
Yes. Every child has intrinsic dignity. From the moment of conception he or she has all the rights of a person, including the inviolable right to life. Included in these basic human rights is the right of the child to his or her biological mother and father: The Final Declaration from the Pontifical Council for the Family, during the International Symposium on Adoption held in Seville, Spain in 1994, stated, “Every child has the right to be conceived within a family through an authentically human act, to be born and grow within that stable and responsible community of life and love.”
For the state to redefine marriage would be to intentionally and institutionally deprive children of their basic right to a mom and a dad.
Are mothers and fathers dispensable?
No. Mothers and fathers are indispensable. Of course, there are situations where a child is not able to have a mother and a father. However, there’s a difference with intentionally depriving a child of a mother a father and thus effectively saying that mothers and fathers are dispensable. Two men or two women can never replace the unique roles of a mother and a father. Only a woman can be a mother. Only a man can be a father. These are not arbitrary roles able to be adequately filled by any person. Sexual difference is essential here. And remember, it’s not just a biological difference (see above). Mothering and fathering are vital to the authentic personal formation of the child. Mothers and fathers also have unique responsibilities that deserve the protection of the state. Attempts to redefine marriage to include persons of the same sex relativize and dismiss the unique and necessary place of mothers and fathers in the family and in society.
But aren’t children adaptable?
The claim that “children are adaptable” is often made by those arguing that so-called same-sex “marriage” will have no effect on children. Unfortunately, this avoids genuine engagement with the issue. The child is quickly dismissed in order to focus attention on adult desires. Similar arguments have been made in the past with the result of only later seeing how important it is to take consideration of the child and his or her needs rather than merely what adults want. With the new debates over the very meaning of marriage today, there is an opportunity to learn from the past and not make similar mistakes. When we speak about our children we speak about our future. Children deserve the best we can give to them. They have a right to a mother and a father.
What about studies today that claim children do just as well if not better with “parents” of the same sex?
The social sciences can be helpful in shedding light on and supporting basic moral truths, but they do not provide the justification for such truths, which reside in the nature and intrinsic dignity of the human person, created in the image of God. It is common for social scientists to disagree among themselves, and it has also happened that particular studies are found later to be in need of correction. This seems to be the case in these early studies that are receiving publicity. Especially whenever children are concerned, it should be expected that the culling and evaluation of data and the making of conclusions and recommendations are carefully and judiciously made, not to support an agenda but to serve the truth.
The social sciences need the assistance of other sciences, especially philosophy and theology, and the guidance of Church teaching, if any truly moral judgments or evaluations are attempted. Such judgments are beyond the purview of social science itself. And when it comes to studies on marriage, the good that marriage is in itself, as the union of a man and a woman, needs to be kept in view.
What about adoption?
Adoption, guardianship, and foster care are not “alternatives to” but rather “take their form from” generation (that is, procreation and mothering and fathering). Adoption is a generous and courageous witness to the gift of the child and a responsibility to which some mothers and fathers are called. However, there’s a difference between adopting children who are in need of a mother and father and intentionally depriving children of both a mother and father through deconstructing the meaning of marriage. Adoption is a highly legitimate and deeply honorable course of action when biological mothering and fathering are not possible.
What about single-parents?
The Church acknowledges and reaches out to single parents. To intentionally deprive children of a mother and a father is different than the unintended or undesired reality of single parenthood. In addition, the difficult reality of unintended or undesired single parenthood, unlike same-sex “marriage,” is still capable of witnessing to and protecting the truth of marriage and the unique place of a mother and a father. It can keep the space open to the unique truth of marriage and the family rather than claiming to replace or substitute it. The difference (i.e., the essential place of sexual difference for marriage and family) is still respected. This respect is a vital formational aspect for the children who are found in such situations.
Human Dignity and the Common Good:
What does the Church teach about the dignity of the human person?
Every person is made in the image and likeness of God. Thus, every person has intrinsic dignity—that is, a dignity that can never be erased. God shows how great our dignity is by becoming one of us in the Person of the Son, Jesus Christ. Even sin does not rid us of our dignity, though it mars our ability to reflect the goodness and beauty of God. All human life, from the moment of conception to natural death, is meant to be respected; all persons deserve to be treated justly. The intrinsic dignity of the human person is a bedrock principle for any moral consideration. (Cf. questions above on a good starting point and on persons who experience same-sex attraction.)
How is marriage related to human dignity?
First, marriage is the natural and intended context for new life to be welcomed in the world. Because of the gift that each human life is, every child deserves to be welcomed, formed, and educated within the nurturing environs of spousal love. A child is a person, not a product or a commodity. For example, to intentionally deprive children of a mom and dad is not in accord with their dignity. Marriage protects the gift that each person is, and thus serves as a fundamental institutional witness and protector of human dignity.
Second, marriage, as the union of one man and one woman, is the only place where sex speaks the language it is intended to speak—the language of true love and self-gift. It is the only place where the two really become “one flesh.” Therefore, marriage protects the gift of sexual love and provides the essential reference point for understanding human sexuality and the call to chastity. All actions that do not conform to this truth of human sexuality are harmful to who we are and disrespectful of our dignity. Marriage again protects the gift and serves human dignity.
Third, there are a variety of other ways that marriage serves and witnesses to human dignity. As the foundation of the “school of love” which is the family, marriage helps form society to respect the person first and foremost. The love of husband and wife also serves as a privileged expression and model for men and women to recognize and affirm each other’s equal dignity and distinct gifts.
What are basic human rights?
Basic human rights are those rights which stem from the intrinsic dignity of the person. “The ultimate source of human rights is not found in the mere will of human beings, in the reality of the State, in public powers, but in man himself and in God his Creator. These rights are ‘universal, inviolable, inalienable’” (cf. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 153). Such rights must always be defended and upheld fully.
Rights are inextricable from duties or responsibilities. The two go together. Serving basic human rights should never come at the expense of marriage; when marriage is sacrificed, authentic human rights are left unprotected and denied.
What about equality?
Equality is an important principle when thinking about human dignity. All persons have equal dignity. The Church stands for the equal dignity of all people and decries any injustice. Unfortunately, the word “equality” has been inserted artificially into discussions about the meaning of marriage. Instead of considering the nature of marriage as it is, some have ignored the real conversation by falsely characterizing the push to “redefine” marriage as “marriage equality.” The strategy thus overlooks the meaning of marriage and pretends the effort to redefine marriage is about rights and equality. This begs the question of marriage and attempts to recast those who stand for the true nature of marriage as “bigots.” The error lies in the missing steps, or rather the misstep. Marriage has been stepped around and not dealt with squarely. Reserving marriage to a man and a woman is not a denial of equality. It’s respecting reality—the reality of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Sexual difference is not an arbitrary construct. Men and women matter. Men and women matter in marriage. It’s that simple. There are many ways to serve and protect basic rights and the equal dignity of persons, but sacrificing marriage is not one of them.
What about fairness?
Fairness, like equality, is an important principle when thinking about the human person and how all persons deserve just and fair treatment. However, again like equality, “fairness” has been artificially inserted into discussions about the meaning of marriage. The claim made is that it is unfair to keep two persons of the same sex from “marrying.” The problem with this claim is that the essential elements of marriage, particularly sexual difference, are completely overlooked. This begs the question of marriage again (see “What about equality?”). In order to be just and thus truly fair, real fairness depends on truth. The truth is that marriage is inherently related to the sexual difference and complementarity of man to woman and woman to man. Without truth, any sense of justice and fairness flounders. Attempts to “redefine” marriage are unjust and unfair to everybody, including children, husbands and wives, and mothers and fathers.
What about civil rights?
No one concerned about truth and justice would deny the fundamental importance of respecting civil rights, nor would they forget the hard struggles that have been taken to secure civil rights in this country, in which the Church played an important role. However, the language of “civil rights” has been repackaged, and the very notion of “civil right” has been distorted, in the current attempts to claim that so-called same-sex “marriage” is a civil right. There is no analogy between the movement today to redefine marriage and the African-American civil rights movement. What’s at stake is not “civil rights” but marriage itself. Civil rights are not being denied; unfortunately, marriage is being manipulated. There are many ways to serve and protect basic rights, but sacrificing marriage is not one of them.
What about discrimination?
Discrimination is understood as the unjust denial of basic human rights to a certain person or group of persons. The Church stands against all (unjust) discrimination and seeks to promote justice for all people. However, like “equality,” “fairness,” and “civil rights,” the language of “discrimination” has been artificially inserted into the discussion on marriage. To say that “marriage is only between one man and one woman” is a matter of distinction and definition. It is a distinction based on truth and reality, based on the nature of marriage. To treat different things differently is not unjust discrimination.
What is the common good?
The common good refers to “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily” (CCC, no. 1906). The common good is the “good that is linked to living society…. It is the good of ‘all of us,’ made up of individuals, families and intermediate groups who together constitute society” (Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Caritas in veritate , no. 7). The common good hinges upon the good of the whole person; thus it always upholds the fundamental dignity of every person and an order “founded on truth, built up in justice, and animated by love” (CCC, no. 1912).
How is marriage related to the common good?
Marriage and the family are centrally related to the common good in multiple ways. The family, founded upon marriage as the union of one man and one woman, is the “key cell” of society (cf. CCC, nos. 2207-2213). Communities and societies rely upon families. Marriage is the fundamental institution for life, from which the family comes forth. Marriage and the family together are a fundamental institution for communion and solidarity, the place where the person is formed and educated in love. In addition, respect for marriage and the family is essential for respecting the healthy balance of society and the principle of subsidiarity. For example, the state should not be handling responsibilities intrinsic to marriage and the family. The state is at the service of marriage and the family and should always seek to protect the distinct roles and responsibilities of families in society.
Isn’t marriage just a private relationship?
No. Marriage is a personal relationship with public significance. That’s one reason for the role of witnesses at weddings. A man and a woman make a public commitment with public ramifications. While it certainly is deeply personal, marriage, as the union of one man and one woman, serves the public good in innumerable ways, including: respecting the dignity of men and women, allowing the complementarity of men and women to flourish, exemplifying the unique good of spousal love, providing the context for welcoming the child, protecting the unique dignity and roles of motherhood and fatherhood, serving life and others, ordering the expression of sexuality to its true human end, and calling society away from individualism and collectivism to an order grounded in the truth of the person and communion. These are just a few goods related to marriage and society.
Same-sex “marriage”: what’s the harm?
This question is asked rhetorically at times, sometimes with follow-up questions ready to be delivered, such as: “What’s same-sex ‘marriage’ going to do to your marriage or my marriage? How is it going to hurt other marriages? How is it going to make a husband and a wife want to break off their marriage?” These follow-ups miss the point and the real issues involved. “Redefining” marriage to include persons of the same sex would do a number of things, including: 1) claim that sexual difference is unimportant and nonessential to marriage and to understanding the identity of the human person; 2) deconstruct or “deinstitutionalize” marriage, as experts have noted, from a social institution in service to the child into a private relationship among consenting adults; 3) intentionally deprive children of a mother and a father; 4) legally and institutionally take sex out of its only meaningful and true conjugal context; and 5) radically affect public education, religious freedom, cultural imagination, the media, and the common good as a whole. Again, marriage has public significance.
Why the concern about religious liberty?
Marriage is much bigger than a mere private relationship between individuals. Marriage and family constitute the cornerstone of neighborhoods, communities, churches, towns, cities, societies, nations, the world. The marriage of one man and one woman is a fundamental pattern of and for human existence, serving the public good. Changing something that 1) is not meant to be changed and 2) is so basic and essential for person and society—this would be bound to have serious repercussions in a variety of areas. Religious liberty is one of them.
Religious liberty is “the right to live in the truth of one’s faith and in conformity with one’s transcendent dignity as a person” (Venerable John Paul II, Centesimus annus , no. 47). Religious liberty is so important that John Paul II called it the “source and synthesis” of rights considered basic to every human person (ibid.). In a variety of instances already, when marriage laws have been changed to allow for a redefinition of marriage, the right to religious freedom has been denied or ignored. However, religious liberty is too important for us to ignore. There are many ways to protect basic rights, but sacrificing marriage, and the potential result of sacrificing religious liberty, is not among them.
Why can’t the State do what it wants with marriage, as long as the Church is respected?
Marriage is not only the concern of the Church. States and nations have had an interest in marriage for millennia. Why? Because marriage and family are central to human dignity and the common good, which the state serves. Marriage existed long before the state or the Church. Marriage is a human and natural (i.e., nature of the person) reality, not only a religious reality. A man and a woman matter. Their equality matters and their difference matters. Marriage matters for everybody, especially for children who are the most vulnerable among us. Therefore, marriage deserves to be protected and promoted by all governments, states, and nations. States have a compelling interest to protect marriage because it’s a matter of justice.
(F.A.Q. courtesy of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)