Australian Bishops: Don’t Mess with Marriage
As Austria begins to debate redefining marriage, the country’s bishops have published a pastoral letter bluntly titled “Don’t Mess with Marriage.” Available as an illustrated printable and electronic booklet, the letter urges respect for all as well as respect for what marriage is (and is not).
“If the union of a man and a woman is different – not the same – as other unions, then justice demands that we treat that union accordingly,” the press release for the letter reads. “If marriage is an institution designed to support people of the opposite sex to be faithful to each other and to the children of their union it is not discrimination to reserve it to them.”
Reminding Catholics that it is correct to treat things that are alike the same, and things that are not alike differently, the letter notes that “privileging or assisting particular people in relevant ways is not arbitrary but an entirely fair response,” and that the type of sexual relationship two people of the same sex can have is inherently different from the type of relationship two people of opposite sexes can have. The latter can and does produce children, and serves as the basis of society.
The former cannot, and does not.
“It would be such a serious injustice, the bishops wrote, that it would ‘undermine that common good for which the civil law exists.’”
To treat same-sex intimate relationships like marriage, say the bishops, is gravely unjust toward all concerned, especially children. It would mean a drastic change “in the basis upon which all existing married couples got married” and would destabilize marriage for all, again harming children the most. It would be such a serious injustice, the bishops wrote, that it would “undermine that common good for which the civil law exists.”
The view that marriage is a construct that affects only the romantic pairings of adults, the letter goes on to explain, is based on emotions and can last only as long as the emotions last. The view that marriage is about much more than the emotions of any two people — that it is a certain type of relationship possible only between a man and a woman but that cements them into a larger relationship with their extended families and any children born to them — is what makes the marital relationship the foundation of society.
This is true even if the marriage does not produce children, because the relationship remains the type of relationship that produces children, and even if the same-sex couple has or procures children, because the relationship itself is not the type that produces children. A same-sex intimate relationship, the bishops say, is properly categorized as a type of friendship. Friendships can have profound meaning for the friends, but do not have the same wider social meaning that marriage does — particularly when it comes to children.
Single parents must raise their children without the help of a spouse, the bishops say, but the children will always suffer from not having a mother or father. Parents should never make their children suffer that way by design.
“There is a big difference, however, between dealing with the unintended reality of single parenthood and planning from the beginning artificially to create an ‘alternative family’ that deliberately deprives a child of a father or a mother,” the bishops write. “Sometimes people claim that children do just fine with two mums or two dads and that there is ‘no difference’ between households with same-sex parents and heterosexual parents. But sociological research, as well as the long experience of Church and society, attests to the importance for children of having, as far as possible, both a mother and father. ‘‘Messing with marriage’, therefore, is also ‘messing with kids’. It is gravely unjust to them.”
Redefining marriage is also unjust to people, such as faithful Catholics, who insist that doing so is not possible, the bishops say. They outline cases around the world, including the United States, which have resulted in legal action against people who oppose redefining marriage, government and institutional policies that label people who oppose redefining marriage as bigots, and the increasing public vilification of people who speak about the negative consequences of redefining marriage — whether on religious, social, or scientific grounds.
“Thus a view of marriage – as between a man and a woman – which was previously common to believers and nonbelievers alike, across a whole variety of cultures and times, is increasingly becoming a truth which cannot be spoken,” the bishops say. “Redefining marriage has consequences for everyone.”
The bishops conclude by calling on married people to pray for Australia, contact their representatives, and most importantly, to witness to the importance of marriage.
“At this moment in our nation’s history married people must give the testimony of their own lives in this matter. We especially pray for genuine friendship and love in every person’s life, married or unmarried; for a right understanding of the meaning of marriage and the requirements of justice; and for an increasing openness to the powerful witness of married couples in our world.”
To download the letter, go to the Catholic Church in Australia’s web site and click on the link to electronic version in the bottom menu under “Our News.”
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