Why is the Church Teaching on Marriage?

There has been much conversation as of late about important issues that affect the common good, including marriage. Our desire is to share with you why the Church teaches on marriage, and why she is engaged in this discussion. God loves all people—and He commands us to do the same. So, in this discussion, our choice is not to stand against anyone, but rather to respect the dignity of all human life and teach with love for all God’s children.

We believe that like all other human beings who are God’s children, people with same-sex attraction are productive citizens, loving parents, community servants, good friends, and our beloved family members. Their fundamental human rights must be defended, and everyone must strive to eliminate any forms of injustice, oppression, or violence against all persons.

We also believe that all people should be able to visit loved ones in the hospital, pass on their property to whomever they choose, and have access to employment, housing, and the basic necessities of life. However, the Church does define marriage as a union between one man and one woman--a stance that does not take away anyone’s existing rights or legal protections.

The goal of this information about the Church’s teaching on marriage is not to mandate how Catholics should vote on this issue; it is to aid in the formation of consciences so that all Catholics can exercise their public duties responsibly. This is why it is helpful to understand what the marriage discussion is and is not about. 

What it is

To understand what marriage is, the best place to start is with the human person. We must ask, “What does it mean to be a human person, as a man or as a woman?” First, men and women are created in the image of God (see Gen 1:27). This means that they have great dignity and worth. Also, since “God is love,” (1 Jn 4:8) each person—created in God’s image—finds his or her fulfillment by loving others. Second, men and women are body-persons. The body—male or female—is an essential part of being human. The body shapes what it means to love as a human person.

When God created human persons in his own image, as male and female, he placed in their hearts the desire, and the task, to love—to give themselves totally to another person. Marriage is one of two ways someone can make a total self-gift (the other is virginity, devoting oneself entirely to God). At the heart of married love is the total gift of self that husband and wife freely offer to each other. Because of their sexual difference, husband and wife can truly become “one flesh” and are capable of bringing life into this world.

In our society, the government grants marriage licenses to men and women who embrace the responsibility of caring for each other and the children they may produce. Uniting men and women in stable relationships is an important social good; therefore, the State has an interest in attaching children to their parents and affirming the importance of both mothers and fathers to a child’s well-being.

Marriage is not something thought up by human society or by any religion—rather, it springs from who the human person is, as male and female, and society and religion affirm and reinforce it. The attempt to “redefine” marriage to include two persons of the same sex denies the reality of what marriage is.

What it’s not

An issue of the Church being “too political”

When a religious group participates in a political debate, the comment often is raised that such participation is in opposition to our country’s “separation of church and state”—an often misunderstood statement. In this discussion, however, the Church is merely offering her insights about what will promote the common good, just as she does on a whole variety of issues:  abortion, the economy, migration, education, and poverty. She attempts to speak using points of reference accessible to all people: natural law, social science, experience, history, and tradition. In doing so, the Church shows she is not defending a mere religious doctrine, but a truth that history shows is universal.

Discrimination against those with same-sex attraction

We must make a point to remind ourselves that every person has an inherent dignity. Like all other human beings, our brothers and sisters living with same-sex attraction are beloved children of God. As a result, the Catholic Church affirms that they “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in this regard should be avoided” [Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2358].

But our love and compassion for our neighbor does not mean we are compelled to modify important public institutions to satisfy desires or validate relationships. People can live as they choose, but no one has the right to redefine marriage for all of society.

A mandate for how Catholics must vote

The Church recognizes that many Catholics struggle with or misunderstand Catholic teaching on marriage and same-sex attraction. She only seeks to inform the consciences of the faithful—to serve as a guide to aid in the process of forming consciences, so that the lay faithful may exercise their public duties responsibly.

Some content for this article taken from documents provided by Minnesota Catholic Conference and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Visit www.mncc.org and www.usccb.org for more information.