What I find most odd about the bishops’ letter on gay marriage, is that apart from the misleading claim that marriage exists for the purpose of procreation, the premises are generally sound – but do not lead to the conclusion, quite the opposite. An American blogger has used this to show, by taking on mostly intact the original letter and inserting alternate conclusion, what the bishop’s really ought to have said: that Catholics should support marriage equality legislation.
I offer as an example, his handling of the first few paragraphs:
A Letter on Marriage from the President and Vice-President of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,
This week the Coalition Government is expected to present its consultation paper on the proposed change in the legal definition of marriage so as to open the institution of marriage to same-sex partnerships.
Today we want to put before you the Catholic vision of marriage and the light it casts on the importance of marriage for our society.
The roots of the institution of marriage lie in our nature. Male and female we have been created, and written into our nature is this pattern of complementarity wonder. This pattern is, of course, affirmed by many other religious traditions. Christian teaching fills out this pattern and reveals its deepest meaning, but neither the Church nor the State has the power to change the fundamental nature of human love. The Catholic Church therefore welcomes the inclusion of same-sex partnerships as an essential reaffirmation of love between individuals, as the essential gift of God.
Long understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, marriage is an expression of our fundamental humanity. Its status in law is the prudent fruit of experience, for the good of the spouses and the good of the family. In this way society esteems the married couple as the source and guardians of the next generation. As an institution marriage is at the foundation of our society. It is for this reason that we welcome the inclusion of same-sex marriage as yet another brick in the foundation of fundamental humanity.
The Church starts from this appreciation that marriage is a natural institution, and indeed the Church recognises civil marriage. The Catholic understanding of marriage, however, has been short-sighted and exclusive. By relying upon ancient and prejudiced doctrine, the Church has inadvertently neglected a vital source of revitalization for the institution of marriage. As a consequence, and without direct intention, we have stoked the fear of homosexuality in ways that have sometimes had catastrophic consequences for our fellow brothers and sisters. Ignorance has led to violence, discrimination, and bigotry. Church doctrine has been used as a veil for persecution, both legal and extra-legal. It has permitted sinful people to act sinfully, while pretending to carry out God’s will. The Church will no longer abet this travesty. We make it clear today that homosexual people are fully human, fully participate in God’s plan, and are fully equal in the eyes of Christ, and Christ’s church. This includes not only the “right” of marriage between people of the same sex, but the obligation to marry, as a fulfillment of God’s promise.
In my introduction, I stated that the claim that the purpose of marriage is procreation in misleading, because church teaching is clear that there are in fact two purposes to marriage, one being procreation and rearing of children, and the other being the unitive value. It should also be obvious to anyone that we do not need marriage to produce children. Humans are perfectly capable of producing children outside of marriage, and do – frequently, which is one reason why so many children are in need of adoption. What we need marriage for, is not the procreation of children, but to provide a suitable context for their rearing. Once we see that, it becomes more appropriate to state the purposes of marriage as it’s unitive value, to strengthen, publicly demonstrate, and sacramentally bless the love of two people, and to provide for a sound environment in which to raise children.
From that perspective, Flâneur’s insertions into Nichols’ text follow fairly smoothly. Later, he moves into new and more controversial territory. Following the letter’s explicit recognition that marriages sometimes break down, and of the pain that accompanies such breakdown, he inserts what amounts to a confession and statement of repentance for the harm that the Catholic Church has historically done to gay and lesbian Catholics, stating that this makes it incumbent on the Catholic Church to strenuously oppose every form of unjust discrimination (which in any case is clearly stated in church documents):
In putting before you these thoughts about why marriage is so important, we also want to recognise the experience of those who have suffered the pain of bereavement or relationship breakdown and their contribution to the Church and society. Many provide a remarkable example of courage and fidelity. Many strive to make the best out of difficult and complex situations. We hope that they are always welcomed and helped to feel valued members of our parish communities. Because of Church doctrine, and a history of rejecting same-sex partnerships, many homosexuals have been deprived of the simple rights in times of bereavement: hospital visitation, funeral rites, legal recognition of marital status. We denounce such discrimination as being essentially non-Christian, and call on all Roman Catholics to open their hearts.
The reasons given by our government for wanting to change the definition of marriage are those of equality and discrimination. Our present law discriminates unjustly when it requires both a man and a woman for marriage. It creates a class of humans who are seen and treated as lesser beings, not fully worthy of celebrating the gift of marriage. We denounce this discrimination, in the name of Christ, and call upon the government to swiftly end all legal discrimination against homosexuals. We pledge our financial, political, pastoral, and ecumenical resources to this crusade for righteousness. We must redress the past, and will do so aggressively.
Read the full, impressive, revised letter here
- Bishops’ Letter Divides English Catholics
- My Catholic Vision of Marriage.
- An Authentic, Catholic History of Marriage
- Tina Beattie’s Traditional, Catholic Vision of Marriage (for all).
- Gay Marriage: Listen to your head and heart, not the Bishops’ bluff and bluster
- Gay Marriage, and the English Catholic Church: More Sanity From Vincent Nichols
- Pope Benedicts Strong Argument for Gay Marriage , Queer Families
- New York Catholics Support Gay Marriage
- Pope Benedict, On the Queer Lessons in the Church’s Martyrdom of St Joan.