One aspect of the Catholic Faith is that its approach in many areas is as “both…and” rather than “either…or” and a number of its central tenets hold two ideas together which seem to be mutually exclusive but can’t be divorced (Jesus Christ as fully God and fully Human, Faith and Reason, Scripture and Tradition). The same sex marriage debate brings up a number of similar issues too, namely, marriage and family, Church and State and one’s religious faith and civic responsibilities; and this article will seek to address these.
Marriage and Family
The central question in the same sex marriage debate is marriage itself and whether or not both partners in the marriage being of opposite sexes makes any difference significant enough for it to be given a unique recognition and status as compared to a union of two people of the same sex. The Catholic Church’s position is that it is significantly different enough because of the nature of that union’s potential to create life and, thus, a family. This is not a position that is purely religious or scriptural but is supported by it and also by other Christians, people of other faiths and those who are not religious.
It is not to deny that there is any less love, generosity, sacrifice in other kinds of relationships but that marriage between a man and a woman entails a unique and special kind of love that deserves its own recognition
For those who are already married and support a change in the definition of marriage, any change in the definition of marriage is probably not going to change how dignified they feel their marriage is but a change will reflect and confirm that the potential for the union of a man and woman to create life is no longer valued as something that grants that union a special and unique status and recognition.
Church and State
The Catholic tradition, at its best, does not push for theocracy; it affirms the State’s legitimate authority and freedom in secular affairs. At the same time, it’s not to say that there won’t be matters where there will be interest and even overlap by both the Church and State. Sometimes there will be disagreement and the Church has a right and even duty and responsibility to voice opposition such as in the case of refugees, asylum seekers, the poor and others who are needy and vulnerable. At the same time, there can also be cooperation and collaboration as in the provision of education, health, aged care and other social services, chaplaincies to state institutions, state funerals etc.
Thankfully in Australia, no baker, florist, photographer or others conducting private business or anyone owning private property have been fined or forced to close down because, in accord with their religious beliefs, they chose to decline their services for same sex weddings. However, these have all already happened and more just in the United States in the last two years since the Supreme Court decision regarding same sex marriage.
Religious Faith and Civic Responsibilities
Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” By this statement, Jesus is indicating clearly that civic responsibilities are not divorced and are an integral part of being a Christian. The Christian religion is personal (a persons’ one-to-one relationship with God) and also public, not private: Jesus teaches us not to keep our lamps under a tub and elsewhere to feed the hungry, visit the sick, bury the dead etc. There are civic matters that are purely political in nature but there are also matters that are moral in nature and these are an occasion when we have to consider giving to God what is God’s in giving to Caesar to what is Caesar’s.
In the last two thousand years, there have been many times when Christians have experienced conflict between their religious beliefs and duties to the state. A famous example is St Thomas More, Lord High Chancellor of England who resigned, was later imprisoned and executed for not supporting King Henry VIII’s open claim to supremacy over the Pope. St Thomas More’s last words are a version of Jesus’ “Give unto Caesar” and are worth considering when a Catholic faces conflict between their religion and state: “The king’s good servant but God’s first”.
The Catholic Church does not regard the same sex marriage debate as mainly about religion: it is, as the Archbishop said in his Pastoral Letter on Same-Sex Marriage, “about what will best serve the interests of our society as a whole” in which, “the Catholic tradition takes the view that our society is best served by retaining the traditional understanding of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, voluntarily entered into for life, which provides the basis for the creation of a family in which, wherever possible, children can be raised in a loving and stable environment by their own mother and father.”
It’s a view that is not exclusively Catholic or religious as seen in the number of ethnic, professional and other secular organisations that have expressed support for the current definition of marriage. As being a good citizen is inseparable from being a good Catholic, so we believe our personal faith is inseparable from our public life and, likewise, marriage from family.
by Fr Brenna Sia, Catholic Youth Ministry Chaplain