BACKGROUNDER PREPARED BY THE CATHOLIC ORGANIZATION FOR LIFE AND FAMILY (COLF)
Frequently asked questions about granting
same-sex partners the legal right to marry
Note: Many of the responses to these questions are drawn from the Presentation on Marriage made by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on February 13, 2003. The full text of this presentation is available on the COLF website under public statements and the CCCB website at http://www.cccb.ca
1. How can it be said that the central purpose of marriage is procreation when not all married couples have children, not all children are born within marriage and with the new technologies and the help of a third party of the opposite-sex, same-sex unions can have children?
The fact that some married couples do not have children either because of infertility or personal decision does not determine the purpose of marriage. Exceptions do not invalidate but prove the rule; individual practices do not invalidate the objectives of an institution; variations do not nullify a norm.
The inherent biological fact remains that marriage between a man and a woman will usually result in children which no shift in the realm of ideas, social trends or new technologies can change.
2. Have not the purposes of marriage evolved over the years in the sense that rape is no longer tolerated under the cover of marriage, and family law has developed to recognize the equality of the spouses? Has the purpose of marriage today evolved from procreation to recognition of the expression of commitment?
The central purpose of marriage, which has served society since time immemorial, has not changed. The developments mentioned above are not really about the purpose or nature of marriage but about changes within the actual structure of marriage. These have simply been developments to enhance, not to redefine the institution. Even though marriage has evolved over the years, it has always been in continuity with its nature.
3. Does the emphasis on procreation mean that the marriages of infertile couples are invalid?
There are couples who do not have children through personal choice or infertility; the increase of second marriages means that this is a more common occurrence than in the past. But exceptions do not invalidate but rather prove the rule, especially when it comes to an institution that plays such a vital role as marriage. How a marriage is actually lived out does not determine the objectives of a major institution, which has critical goals for the future of society.
4. How would granting same-sex partners the legal capacity to marry affect opposite sex marriages?
Marriage is both a personal and a social commitment. What is legally and socially recognized is not only the personal commitment but also a social commitment to contribute to the future of society by having and raising children. While not all married couples have children, the relationship between a man and a woman has the inherent potential to create children.
Allowing same-sex partners to marry would change the definition of marriage so that it would no longer be marriage. Procreation is not the only purpose of marriage but it is essential to the institution. Moreover, the complementarity and richness of sexual difference is essential to the expression of conjugal love.
Laws must be examined not only for their impact on individuals but also for their impact on the social fabric. It is important for the stability of the family and ultimately society to strengthen the institution of marriage. Mr. Justice Pitfield in a decision of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in October 2001 expressed the social dimension of marriage in this way:
“The state has a demonstrably genuine justification in affording recognition, preference, and precedence to the nature and character of the core social and legal arrangement by which society endures.”
5. What is the response to same-sex partners who say that if they were allowed to marry their unions would be strengthened and their children better protected because recognition would remove the social stigma?
The fact is that children are living in a variety of households these days: blended families, extended families, single-parent families, families where there has been the death of a parent, poor families, rich families.
Over the centuries marriage has been about promoting the relationship of the couple and the continuation of society. It has not been primarily about affirming the choice of one's partner in life. Concerning social stigma, it is important to reinforce the Church’s teaching that all human beings have the same human dignity and are worthy of the same respect because they are created in the image of God; this is true whether or not certain sexual behaviour is accepted by the Church.
6. Would allowing same-sex partners to marry devalue marriage?
Granting same-sex partners the legal right to marry would change the definition of marriage so it would no longer be marriage. Erasing distinctions among marriage and other relationships would also result in less, not more diversity in society. This is not about making judgments about the worth and value of individuals in different types of relationships. All human beings have inherent human dignity because they come from God and are loved by God. It is appropriate to make distinctions between marriage and other relationships because for centuries it has been and continues to be the framework through which society perpetuates itself. Statistics prove overwhelmingly that marriage is the best environment in which to raise children. As Mr. Justice Pitfield said in a decision of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in October 2001, “The only issue is whether marriage must be made something it is not in order to embrace other relationships.”
7. Same-sex partners now have almost all of the same social benefits of married couples; so aren't people really just fighting over a word? What is so important about the word, “marriage”?
Words are important. For example, our personal names, our family names are “just words”. Words signify who and what we are and the meaning of institutions. Marriage has enormous significance because it has existed across all cultures, faiths, and political systems since recorded history. Marriage is a word that is full of history, meaning and symbolism, and one which should be kept for this unique reality.
8. If some aspects of marriage resemble other relationships, does that mean that marriage is not distinct from other relationships?
It is true that some common-law relationships produce children, some marriages break up, and some same-sex partners have children either from previous relationships or with the assistance of new technologies. What is important is not to fragment marriage into different components but to look at its larger purpose which is deeply rooted in our history, culture and religious traditions.
9. Would refusing same-sex partners the right to marry be the same as laws in some countries which used to prevent marriage between different races?
The analogy is not valid because racial laws were unjustly about keeping the races separate, not about the nature of marriage. Same-sex marriage would, like polygamy, change the true nature of marriage by making it into something that it is not.
10. There have been three court cases in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia about the definition of marriage. In all three the court found that the opposite-sex definition of marriage was discriminatory, and only one (the B.C. case) found that the discrimination was justifiable. Is it not just a matter of time before the definition is changed, and shouldn't the Church be promoting equality?
First, these are lower court Judgments and there is a lengthy appeal process. Legal and social distinctions are drawn between marriage and other relationships such as common-law unions, same-sex unions and other adult non-sexual relationships, not on the basis of irrelevant personal characteristics. The nature of these relationships is substantially different from marriage, even if they may have some similar aspects. The institution of marriage transcends the exceptions. Nor is it being suggested that distinctions are made on the basis that individuals in one type of relationship are more worthy of respect as human beings than others. Catholic teaching is clear that the dignity of all human beings must be respected because they are created in the image of God. What is in question here is whether it is to the benefit of society to change the definition of marriage so that it no longer corresponds to its reality, not only as known and lived over the centuries but by the vast majority of Canadians today as well as the rest of the world.
11. What about civil unions for same-sex partners?
There are other relationships between adults that involve commitment, caring and emotional and financial interdependence, whether or not these may involve a sexual component. Should the government see fit to address their concerns through civil unions or registered partnerships, it should be done in a way that does not radically redefine marriage. Marriage must be maintained as an opposite-sex institution.
12. Same-sex partners take the position that creating civil unions for them would be treating them as second-class citizens. Would that be so?
Treating marriage differently is not a judgment on the worth or human dignity of individuals in different types of relationships. The distinction is made because of the generally different role that marriage has played in the perpetuation and stability of society.
March 25, 2003