Bishop's Column

Make no mistake: civil unions are an effort to redefine marriage

Today, Jan. 11, the Colorado State Legislature begins its 2012 session. Among the proposed legislation is a bill to promote "civil-unions," which will give state protections to homosexual relationships, affording these unions the same rights, benefits and safeguards that come with marriage. Make no mistake about it, "civil-unions" are an effort to redefine marriage by creating an equivalent, legally-protected relationship for same-sex couples, which will further erode the unique status of marriage.

Marriage is among the oldest human institutions. The communion of husband and wife is a unique reality that has no true parallel. As Christians, we believe that the first marriage has its origins with our first parents, Adam and Eve. But even non-believers know that marriage is an ancient and revered human relationship. Marriage is a fundamental, objective reality.

Catholics believe that marriage is part of the natural law and its blueprint is written in the fiber of our being. The exclusive and permanent bond of a man and woman joined in marriage offers to the couple and to society a preeminent value that cannot be redesigned by legal dictate.

The Catholic Church doesn’t teach that persons who experience homosexual inclinations are evil—quite the contrary, in fact. But our Church does believe that homosexual attraction is a tragic distortion of the great gift of sexuality God has given us. And civil-union laws endorse and sanction that distortion by suggesting that homosexual relationships are equivalent to marriage.

As the Colorado Catholic bishops have said recently: "To be clear, in opposing civil unions we have no desire to deny anyone his or her fundamental civil rights. Nearly every benefit being sought by this legislation is already legally available to Coloradans. … Our opposition to civil union legislation or any legislation that seeks to redefine marriage should not be misconstrued as a condemnation of homosexual people or an attack on fundamental human rights. We affirm what our Church teaches—namely, that we must treat our homosexual sisters and brothers with dignity and love, as we would all God’s children."

Across boundaries and throughout history marriage has been regarded as the fundamental relationship in civil societies. Marriage, between a man and a woman, begets families. Families beget communities. Communities beget cultures and societies and nations. At the core of human communities is the family. And at the core of the family is marriage.

Since ancient times, successful and sound societies have created laws to protect and promote the institution of marriage. Aristotle and Plato believed that protecting families was at the heart of governmental responsibility. So did Moses and David. So did George Washington and John Adams.

When governments create laws to protect marriage, they ensure that women and men are viewed equally before the law. They ensure that families can help and protect each other. Most of all, they state that children have the right to two parents, a mother and father, who can love them and care for them.

Marriage law requires men to treat women with dignity. They allow husbands and wives to share property, and parents to pass on property to children. Marriage laws require parents to fulfill their responsibilities to care for their children. All of these laws support marriage, which is a just exercise of civil power.

Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, said recently "in no way can civil union measures be considered a permissible compromise or a step in advancing the common good; instead, they directly violate principles of justice and accelerate the push to redefine marriage itself."

Protecting marriage—protecting truth—is a fundamental governmental responsibility. Redefining it is beyond the ability of any human government.

We do not know the long-term consequences of creating a parallel for marriage, distinct from its ancient and natural meaning. But we do know they will be severe. It’s already clear that some view civil unions as a stepping-stone to endorsing polygamous relationships. Furthermore, civil unions allow for adoption of children by same-sex couples, and infringe on religious liberties for many groups. There will likely be further consequences. Redefining marriage means that government will try to redefine truth.

In our parishes this weekend, the Colorado Catholic Conference will ask us to sign postcards suggesting to our legislators that civil unions are dangerous and unjust. Joining this postcard campaign will take no time at all. But it allows each of us to speak the truth—to ask the government to respect the plan for marriage God has given us. I pray you will join me in this campaign. Doing so protects children, protects marriage and, ultimately, protects the common good of all of us.

Bishop James D. Conley is apostolic administrator of the Denver Archdiocese.

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