Legislation creating ”same-sex” marriage: What’s at stake?

Bishop's Corner

Marriage comes to us from nature … neither Church nor State invented marriage, and neither can change its nature. 

At the beginning of the New Year, 2013, a law is being proposed in the General Assembly to change the legal definition of marriage in Illinois to accommodate those of the same sex who wish to “marry” one another. In this discussion, the Church will be portrayed as “anti-gay,” which is a difficult position to be in, particularly when families and the Church herself love those of their members who are same-sex oriented. What’s at stake in this legislative proposal and in the Church’s teaching on marriage?

Basically, the nature of marriage is not a religious question. Marriage comes to us from nature. Christ sanctifies marriage as a sacrament for the baptized, giving it significance beyond its natural reality; the State protects marriage because it is essential to family and to the common good of society. But neither Church nor State invented marriage, and neither can change its nature.

Nature and Nature’s God, to use the expression in the Declaration of Independence of our country, give the human species two mutually complementary sexes, able to transmit life through what the law has hitherto recognized as a marital union. Consummated sexual relations between a man and a woman are ideally based on mutual love and must always be based on mutual consent, if they are genuinely human actions. But no matter how strong a friendship or deep a love between persons of the same sex might be, it is physically impossible for two men, or two women, to consummate a marital union. Even in civil law, non-consummation of a marriage is reason for annulment.

Sexual relations between a man and a woman are naturally and necessarily different from sexual relations between same-sex partners. This truth is part of the common sense of the human race. It was true before the existence of either Church or State, and it will continue to be true when there is no State of Illinois and no United States of America. A proposal to change this truth about marriage in civil law is less a threat to religion than it is an affront to human reason and the common good of society. It means we are all to pretend to accept something we know is physically impossible. The Legislature might just as well repeal the law of gravity.

What is, then, at stake in this proposed legislation? What is certainly at stake is the natural relationship between parents and children. Children, even if they are loved and raised by those who are not their biological parents, want to know who their parents are, who are their natural family. The fascination with genealogical tables and the opening of adoption records are evidence of this desire to find oneself in a biological succession of generations. No honest “study” has disproved what we all know. Stable marriage between a husband and wife has safeguarded their children, surrounding them with familial love and creating the secure foundation for human flourishing. This natural desire, already weakened in a seemingly more and more promiscuous society, will no longer be privileged in civil law. It will be no more “normal” than any other “family” arrangement. If the nature of marriage is destroyed in civil law, the natural family goes with it.

As well, those who know the difference between marriage and same-sex arrangements will be regarded as bigots. This is where the religious question does come into play. Including “religious freedom” in the title of the proposed law recognizes that religious teaching based on natural truths will now be considered evidence of illegal discrimination and will be punishable by law. The title of the law is ironic if not disingenuous. Those who know that marriage is a union between a man and a woman for the sake of family will carry a social opprobrium that will make them unwelcome on most university faculties and on the editorial boards of major newspapers. They will be excluded from the entertainment industry. Their children and grandchildren will be taught in the government schools that their parents are unenlightened, the equivalent of misguided racists. Laws teach; they express accepted social values and most people go along with societal trends, even when majority opinion espouses immoral causes.

The legalization of abortion is a good example of how an immoral procedure that kills babies in their mother’s womb is first permitted legally in limited circumstances as a necessary evil and then moves in forty years to become a condition of human freedom, necessary to be preserved at all costs, an essential part of “reproductive health care.” We are on the same trajectory with marriage. Model laws creating same-sex unions as civil marriage have been part of legal education for decades. The media have engaged in a campaign on this issue for almost as long a time, desensitizing people to accept as normal something that had previously been recognized as problematic. We are at the end of a tremendous propaganda effort by those secure in their conviction that they are at the cutting edge of human development. But what we’re seeing is not particularly new. Two thousand years ago, the Church was born in a society with the values now being advanced as necessary for a fair society today.

Why this law? Since all the strictly legal consequences of natural marriage are already given to same-sex partners in civil unions, what is now at stake in this question for some homosexually oriented people is self-respect and full societal acceptance of their sexual activities. Because fair-minded people cannot approve of hatred or disdain of others, “same-sex marriage” becomes for many a well-intentioned and good-hearted response to help others be happy. But marriage is a public commitment with a responsibility that involves more than the personal happiness of two adults. Inventing “civil rights” that contradict natural rights does not solve a problem of personal unhappiness.

Some religious people have framed their acceptance of this proposed law as an exemplification of compassion, justice and inclusion. As attitudes, these sentiments have been used to justify everything from eugenics to euthanasia. If religion is to be more than sentiment, the moral content of these words has to be filled in from the truths of what human reason understands and God has revealed. Same-sex unions are incompatible with the teaching that has kept the Church united to her Lord for two thousand years.

The Catholic Church in this Archdiocese has consistently condemned violence or hatred of homosexually oriented men and women. Good pastoral practice encourages families to accept their children, no matter their sexual orientation, and not break relationships with them. The Archdiocese offers Mass and other spiritual help to those who live their homosexuality anonymously (Courage groups) and also to those who want to be publicly part of the gay community (AGLO, which celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary this year). People live out their sexual identity in different fashions, but the Church consistently offers the means to live chastely in all circumstances, as the love of God both obliges and makes possible.

Finally, what is at stake in this proposed legislation was the subject of a few sentences in our Holy Father’s recent end of year address to his co-workers in Rome. Citing the Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, who recently spoke to the impact of the “philosophy of gender” as it affects proposed marriage laws in France, Pope Benedict commented: “The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and women in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. Rabbi Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of right, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain. When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defense of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man.”

That is what’s at stake now. Despite the seeming inevitability of “same-sex marriage” legislation, each responsible citizen should consider what he or she must now do, as a lame duck legislature, many of whose members are no longer accountable to their constituents, prepares to make a decision that will have enormous consequences for everyone. God bless you.

From the “Cardinal’s Column, January 6, 2013, Archdiocese of Chicago.



This is the first in a new series for HPR, the Bishop’s Corner, where important statements by our Bishops will be published with their permission.

“See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. … Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.  … Whatsoever {the bishop} shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.” (St. Ignatius of Antioch {d. 107}: Letter to the Smyrnaeans, §8)



Cardinal Francis George, O.M.I. About Cardinal Francis George, O.M.I.

Cardinal Francis George is the first Chicago native to become Archbishop of Chicago. Installed in May 1997, he arrived by way of the west coast, where he had spent less than a year as Archbishop of Portland, Oregon, and five years as Bishop of Yakima, Washington. He is the thirteenth Ordinary of Chicago since its establishment as a diocese in 1843.

The northwest side native, a member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, is the sixth Cardinal to lead the Chicago Archdiocese's 2.3 million Catholics. He has assumed a prominent position among U.S. bishops, serving as the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2007 to 2010. His pastoral leadership encompasses international and national audiences.


  1. Marriage comes from God who created nature. I think it’s high time we stop trying to justify our Catholic stance on natural arguments alone without reference to God. Nature didn’t create marriage, God did.

  2. This particular blog, “Legislation creating ”same-sex” marriage: What’s at stake?
    – Homiletic & Pastoral Review” was superb. I am making out a replica to present
    to my buddys. Thanks for your time-Osvaldo

  3. Avatar Ted Heywood says:

    Well done and eloquently stated.
    Now stand up and say it in the secular press with editorials, letters to the Editors, in speeches to public forums, in addresses to legislatures, not just in Catholic publications. Call press conferences, join with like minded other faith communities, the support of the people is there — it needs to be summoned. There are no more important battles to be fought than this and others associated with the ‘Culture of Death’ that is permeating American society.
    Our Cardinals and Bishops must lead on these issues so the faithfull have a stated authority and argument to follow up with. Stop administrating your diocese and start teaching, preaching, and leading. Our spineless catholic legislators, judges and civil administrators need someone to stiffen their back bones and give them back a sense that THEY are responsible for these issues and will be held accountable for their voting and support — not by the voting public but by their ultimate judge. The faithfull will follow if you just lead – publicly, obviously and courageously.
    St. Paul didn’t build the church by just knocking on synagogue doors and whining to the inhabitants — that was a particularlyfruitless part of his ministry. He stood on stones in the public squares and preached salvation thru Christ and His Cross. Took some arrows in the process, but it worked.

    • Hello Mr. Heywood,

      Perhaps you share my frustration with the great silence in the Catholic parishes concerning this and the many other issues of attack by the culture of death upon this land. You call on our Bishops to stand up and speak “in the secular press with editorials, letters to the Editors, in speeches to public forums, in addresses to legislatures, not just in Catholic publications,” and so on. I would modify that call to the Bishops to focus first of all on their priests! Bishops, teach and lead and exhort your priests that they in turn would teach and lead and exhort the laity to live our lay vocation.
      Catechism 899: The initiative of lay Christians is necessary especially when the matter involves discovering or inventing the means for permeating social, political, and economic realities with the demands of Christian doctrine and life. This initiative is a normal element of the life of the Church:
      “Lay believers are in the front line of Church life; for them the Church is the animating principle of human society. Therefore, they in particular ought to have an ever-clearer consciousness not only of belonging to the Church, but of being the Church, that is to say, the community of the faithful on earth under the leadership of the Pope, the common Head, and of the bishops in communion with him. They are the Church.”

      The laity need to hear this and understand it – they need to believe it, in order to live it. And they need to hear it from their parish pastors, whom they trust. Do these pastors know of a “lay vocation”, and believe it? Do they know of their pastoral responsibility in this regard? Do they hear of it from their bishops? Bishops, please lead your priests! The Catholic people need the truth – and persons in this culture of death need the light.

  4. Avatar Tom McGuire says:

    My experience shows that two loving people in same sex relationship are better parents than a man and a woman, although married, not committed to each other. Relationships where adultery is a way of life, where fornication is accepted, where there is no love for each other or children are definitely destructive to family When Catholics speak about how same sex couples destroy the family, the words sound hallow to people who see the hypocrisy of those who are not faithful to their marriage vows. Catholics speak about compassion for those who are gay, but what does the Church offer them in terms of relationships of love?

    • Hello Mr. Mcguire,

      Your experience may show you that some same-sex partners “are better parents” than a sufficiently dysfunctional married man and woman, but “better” does not mean good. It is better for a victim to be only robbed, than to be both robbed and beaten – but robbery is not therefore justified. An innocent child is robbed of an intrinsic good that he is due, which is replaced by an intrinsic disorder, if he is placed in a household where “homosexual acts [which are] are intrinsically disordered” (Catechism 2357) are accepted as the norm.

      Concerning your question, what does the Church offer persons struggling with homosexual attractions: she offers them truth with compassion. Truth is essential to authentic love; authentic love cannot be based on lies. Homosexual activity is in essence a lie opposed to conjugal love, proclaimed plain and obvious to be a lie by the anatomy of the human body, male and female.

  5. Avatar Martin B Drew says:

    Cardinal George gives us a complete presentaton of the extreme difference between the Sacrament of Matimony and what it isn’t. This is a presentation showing the doctrine of the Catolic church and the natural law. God bless you Cardinal George.

  6. Avatar Ted Heywood says:

    Mr. McGuire,
    You ask
    “Catholics speak about compassion for those who are gay, but what does the Church offer them in terms of relationships of love?”
    The answer is –the same ‘relationships of love’ it offers everyone – without exception, without change and without apology. These reflect the truth, not some shifting criteria based on human attractions and called ‘love’. The Church does not create new ‘relationships of love’ for every inclinationof sinful mankind.
    Though not ‘politically correct’ any more, homosexuality is a disorder, recognised as such throughout the history of western civilization and until recently in the standard manuals of psychological disorders.
    The truth comes to us from God through scripture and tradition and is unchangeable. Homosexuality is a self centered practice that has become rampant at the height (end) of all great civilizations when they were about to self destruct. Ditto the killing of inconvenient infants – what we call abortion. The western world would seem to be careening headlong down that path.
    I note with great consternation that in the abortion/contraception/LGBT battles that are going on at the United Nations level it is the ‘third world’ countries that are strongly resisting the efforts of the ‘developed countries’ to introduce these practices under the heading of ‘Women’s Health’. Almighty strange that countries like Russia, Iran,Saudi Arabia, etc. are leading the effort to defeat these while the USA is striving mightily (and with enormous $ contributions) to force them on everyone. Self destructive.
    I guess that is what PJPII meant by the ‘Culture of Death’.

  7. The Church is not saying that persons with same-sex attractions should be denied healthy and substantive friends. What the Church is saying to us is that people who struggle with same- sex attractions do not have the form and capacity to make a Sacramental marriage. For every Sacrament their is a necessary substance of the Sacrament. For example, rice cakes can not be consecrated as Eucharist. The necessary substance of Sacramental marriage, is the maleness and femaleness of the partners, for their call is to form a mutual, life-giving communion with each other. They do this to fulfill the demands of their own salvation and of the salvation of the world. Sacramental marriage has a powerful witness value that leads others by example to wholeness of life!

  8. Avatar Martin Drew says:

    One more tme I love Cardinal George and his logic in showing the natural law and it’s demand on persons as regards Matrimony , not invented by the State..Thank you Cardinal George.


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