A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Same-Sex Civil Unions?

Now that Pope Francis has been said to have approved of same-sex civil unions during his time in Argentina, we begin to see other cautious voices chiming in. First was the "no, I didn't mean THAT" from Vincezo Paglia, and now Archbishop Piero Marini observes "There are many couples that suffer because their civil rights aren't recognized."Make no mistake: Francis spoke clearly and harshly against same-sex marriage, calling it a destructive attack on Gods plan. Francis also is fervently opposed to gay adoption, which he has said discriminates against children. (In fact, however, no reputable data shows harm to children from being raised in households headed by same-sex couples. Some studies show benefits.) It is not unreasonable to see his apparent openness to civil unions as a compromise stance. In fact, such a stance would seem to be in accord with Catholic doctrine in that civil law is answerable not to Church teaching but to the requisites of the common good, manifested in contemporary societies by recognizing the equal rights of all. Civil law neither prohibits all vices nor does it require the practice of all virtues. (This latter from that radical dude, Thomas Aquinas.) This would be a shift from recent magisterial pronouncements. Pope Benedict spoke against civil recognition of same-sex relationships in 2003, not distinguishing civil unions from civil marriage. If Francis stays the course, it'd mark a sharp change from the views of his predecessor still living just across the way.Echoing Benedict, the USCCB spoke against same-sex civil unions in 2009, calling them

a multifaceted threat to the very fabric of society, striking at the source from which society and culture come and which they are meant to serve. Such recognition affects all people, married and non-married: not only at the fundamental levels of the good of the spouses, the good of children, the intrinsic dignity of every human person, and the common good, but also at the levels of education, cultural imagination and influence, and religious freedom.

Interesting times. Will the USCCB find a way both to accede to Pope Francis' apparent willingness to promote civil unions AND to continue to stand by its stated concern that society will fall into ruin as a result? Or will they act in defiance of the current Pope, (assuming, of course, that Francis doesn't change his tune now that he's changed his name)? Or, as some have observed, has this ship sailed? The time to promote civil unions as an alternative to same-sex marriage may have passed. To many, now, it's civil marriage all the way, with civil unions sounding too much like "separate but equal" to the American Catholic ear. (Indeed, Catholics lead other religious groups in their support of same-sex marriage.)

About the Author

Lisa Fullam is professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

Lisa - you may well have looked into it more deeply than I have, but my understanding is that Cardinal Bergoglio "supported" same sex civil unions very much as a lesser-of-two-evils in Argentina - the greater of the two evils being same sex marriage (which, I believe, passed despite his opposition). I don't know that American bishops would "accede" to this line of thought, unless there is a specific lesser-of-two-evils choice presented in a particular jurisdiction. My admittedly not very close observation of the trajectory of same sex relationship recognition in the US is that it's rare that both civil union legislation and same sex marriage legislation would be proposed simultaneously.. Ether it happens as it seems to be happening now in Illinois, in which civil unions are legalized as a stepping-stone to full-blown marriage which follows in being legalized a few years later, or, as you note, the ship of civil unions has now sailed, and jurisdictions will make the jump from no recognition at all directly to recognition of same sex marriage.FWIW, I don't think that civil unions need to be positioned as a same sex issue in order for the church to oppose it (or at least to have serious qualms about it). I recall reading that a number of opposite sex couples have opted for it in France. Without introducing the additional complexity of same sex legal recognition, civil unions are problematic. I'd be really surprised if Pope Francis sees civil unions as virtuous. I'd think it more likely that he considers it to be a vice, and as such, he might be inclined to accept your point that civil law needn't prohibit all vices. But I don't know that he'd even go that far in a generic sort of way; as I say, his alleged support in Argentina was only because the alternative was (from his point of view) even worse. Of course, Pope Francis has really surprised me any number of times already, so who knows?

Pope Francis majored in chemistry in college, has a Master's in the subject, and even taught chemistry in a high school. This indicates to me that he has to have a good understanding of the need for evidence when making statements about the natural world -- and that includes gays raising kids. If he truly respects science, then I'm hopeful that his mind is open in the matter of whether or not gays can raise children well. And this would go beyond even Marini's position. (Personally, I don't think there is enough evidence in yet to be sure about it, but so far so good.)It seems to me that some of the bishops of this world have noticed Pope Francis' apparent openness to reasonable change, and some of the bishops are even starting to explore some "heresies". For instance, my own archbishop, Gregory Aymond, last week complimented the argument of some folks who defended the morning-afterpill. He said, that he "received many likes to my Facebook post along with several comments. It was interesting that most of the comments had to do with my statement that Plan B is abortive. There was discussion and an educated argument about whether or not that pill can cause abortions. Im not a doctor and I dont have a degree in science, but through the years Ive been told that the drug levonorgestrel, which uses large doses of birth-control pills to prevent conception or implantation up to 72 hours after sex, can be abortive."Note: he didn't say that the Church teaching was solid dogma. He showed himself open to argument. That's a real step forward, it seems to me. I suspect that other bishops, such as Marini, are also testing the waters now that Francis seems so open.

The CDC has condemned civil unions and anti-discrimination laws to protect gay people. Find me a case where the Church has made an 180-degree turn and explained away an official pronouncement of the CDC, and I will believe there is a chance the Church will support civil unions. Bergolio in 2010:

In the coming weeks, the Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the familyAt stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of Gods law engraved in our hearts.Let us not be naive: this is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy Gods plan. It is not just a bill (a mere instrument) but a move of the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.

I really don't imagine one can credibly claim Satan is behind the push for same-sex marriage and then say, "Oh, but civil unions are another thing." And yes, the ship has already sailed. Civil unions as a compromise to ward off same-sex marriage is a an idea whose time has come and gone. Even France, which had one of the most popular and successful arrangement for civil unions passed same-sex marriage today.

@Jim, Oh, absolutely, I agree with you that Bergoglio was almost certainly supporting civil unions as a way to stave off civil marriage. Interesting here is that Ratzinger's CDF and the USCCB don't seem to have left themselves room to argue in such a way. And yes, isn't it interesting that civil unions are seen as competing with marriage in France, (where opposite or same-sex couples could get them.) My understanding is that in France, civil unions were easier to dissolve than marriages, while tax benefits were granted immediately. In 2010, there were 3/4 as many civil unions as marriages in France. Also notable: France's National Assembly (lower house of the legislature) voted in favor of a same-sex marriage bill today. It passed their Senate earlier in the year, and the president already promised to enact same-sex marriage, so will sign it. It'll be interesting to see what happens to the rates of marriage vs. civil unions in light of the new law. France is the 14th, and so far the largest nation to legalize same-sex marriage--3 nations in the last couple weeks (with New Zealand and Uruguay.)

@David, Indeed--that's part of what makes this so interesting. The Pope is credibly said (see the NCR piece) to have supported civil unions, even though he spoke in the harsh language you quote against same-sex marriage. Bergoglio advocated civil unions--what will Francis do? And if Francis sticks with his earlier position, what will the USCCB do? And you scooped me on France--we must have been simul-typing.

I read Ratzinger as opposing recognition of same sex unions in such a way that they would be equivalent to marriage. I do not think Civil Unions do that and neither do Gay Marriage supporters, which is why they seek full gay marriage and not mere Civil Unions.The New Zealand Catholic Bishops back in 2000 publicly supported some form of legal recognition of people living together in intimate unions outside marriage, which includes but is broader then same sex unions (they could just be friendship). I think this is a basic civil right flowing from the dignity of the human person and the Common Good requirement of the state to support the dignity of the person. It is, in that sense, a human right, and not a right premised on homosexuality.I think our opposition to gay Civil Unions is mistaken and has undermined our more important position on marriage.On gay adoption, I have no problem with gay partners being able to adopt their partners children, which seems hard to argue against. Der Speiegel reports Leonardo Boff saying that Cdl Bergoglio approved a same sex adoption a few months ago. While The Church may oppose same sex adoption in general, there is little doubt that in particular cases it may well be justified in the best interests of the child. Pope John Paul I apparently found that gay couples would adopt severely disabled children no one else would adopt.I find recent developments in Catholic understanding of this issue to be most encouraging and an excellent example of doctrinal development through engagement with society, especially with the problems facing homosexuals.The Church cannot move forward in serving Christ by closing in on herself and digging in on ultraconservative positions which are well past their use by date.God Bless

"Itll be interesting to see what happens to the rates of marriage vs. civil unions in light of the new law. France is the 14th, and so far the largest nation to legalize same-sex marriage3 nations in the last couple weeks (with New Zealand and Uruguay.)"Tic, toc.Tic, toc.I'll be glad to read the French Catholic Bishops' statement(s) disavowing their support of or participation in the recent spate of gay bashing in their country and dioceses.But I won't hold my breath.

This is the pattern that occurred in the UK as well. The Catholic Church (and C of E) were against civil partnerships until it became clear that the government was going to legalize civil same-sex marriages. Then suddenly the church was for civil partnerships ..."We would want to emphasise that civil partnerships actually provide a structure in which people of the same sex who want a lifelong relationship [and] a lifelong partnership can find their place and protection and legal provision As a Church we are very committed to the notion of equality so that people are treated the same across all the activities of life. The Church holds great store by the value of commitment in relationships and undertakings that people give"[...] [T]hese words were uttered by Archbishop Vincent Nichols last week at a press conference following the English and Welsh bishops conference. Thats the same bishops conference which in 2003 published a document in response to a government consultation on civil partnership a framework for the legal recognition of same-sex couples, in which the bishops stated their unequivocal view that the governments proposals to create civil partnerships for same-sex couples would not promote the common good and that they therefore opposed them. Their reasons, in brief, were that these proposals would in the long term undermine marriage and the family, and that they were not needed to defend fundamental human rights or remedy significant injustices for same-sex couples, as these have either already been substantially addressed or can largely be addressed by the couple entering into contractual arrangements privately. So, what has changed? .... - too think the ship has sailed on civil partnerships and that's as it should be.

Here in France, these past few months there have been many "first times": the first time that I have seen overt politics during Mass and heard it during a homily, first time I've received communion from a priest who was smirking at me (after he gave a homily that was more like heating the room before a demonstration than like a homily - and he knows I don't share those views.) The parish has developed a sense of community that I have not seen before: people have been brought closer together, united by their shrill campaign against gay marriage.I have received many emails to join various protests: because I teach catechism, it is assumed that I am against gay marriage. An exchange with my neighbor in the pew one Sunday right before Mass:"- My husband is over there talking to people in the choir, because there's a lot to organize for the demonstration. Are you going to go?- No, I'm not going to the demonstration.- I understand. You must be busy. - No, it's not that.- It's not?- No. I'm not going because I don't agree with the demonstration.- Oh. (Stepping back to put a little distance between us:) I see."Then the bell rings, we get up for the opening hymn. During the exchange of peace that Mass, on that day coincidentally (?) my neighbor was not at my side when the time came to shake hands.People have come to my catechism class to invite the youth to come with them to demonstrations in Paris. They said they would take them along if they only brought a letter with an authorization from their parents. My well-behaved class remained silent during the harangue, except that when the parent said: "there are limits to what can be allowed. For example, if a grandfather who really likes his grand-daughter decided to marry her, that wouldn't be allowed, would it?", one kid muttered under his breath: "and why not?" (the parent was so wrapped up in her talk that I don't think she heard.)A colleague had a falling out with his in-laws over gay marriage. He said he never realized before how bigoted they were. It's been both uniting and divisive. Interesting times.

In this matter, the Church reminds me a little bit of Mrs. Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility,when she learns that there is someone even less to her liking as a daughter-in-law than the estimable Elinor Dashwood. "It would have been beyond comparison," she said, "the least evil of the two; and she would be glad to compound now for nothing worse."I hope that Church leaders will not pretend now that they are open to civil unions for gay people. That would only make them look cynical as well as foolish. And it will not change the debate or the trajectory of this issue. Second best is no longer a part of it, if it ever really was.

I just despair of catholic leadership after Cardinal Vingt Trois's boetian utterances in Lourdes and his failure to distance himself from the fascist thugs. I am sure that Francis will make a statement on gay issues soon and it will not be an enlightened statement. The Aparecido document of the Latin American bishops talks about people choosing their sexual orientation freely out of selfish individualism. Francis has stated that gay marriage is a machination of the Evil One to deceive the people of God. He thinks Catholics have been too narrowly preoccupied with sex-related issues: I think his antidote to that would be to tell them to shut up and just obey the established doctrine. Cardinals and archbishops currently perceived as blowing their mouth on civil unions will be brought to heel just as under Benedict (it is so easy to do). Claire's account of French Catholics experience a surge of community identity rang a bell with me. It is a horrifying development in the French Church, and it places Catholics in the arms of the extreme right, who must be overjoyed.

I think all secular arrangements (like getting married at the Justice of the Peace) should be called "civil unions", whether it's between same sex or different sex couples. The word "marriage" should be reserved for the religious-sanctioned unions. We take on a much bigger commitment when we enter into a Catholic marriage, for example, than when we go to City Hall. I think we should distinguish between those two kinds of relationships.

Irene - there are suggestions floating about that Catholic clergy (and presumably the clergy of other denominations that object to same sex marriage) be 'de-authorized' by the state to officiate at weddings that result in marriages that are recognized by the state. Were this to happen, a couple who wished to be married with the blessing of the church would have two ceremonies: a civil ceremony on Thursday, followed by a church ceremony on Saturday (presumably leaving Friday free for the rehearsal :-)). I believe this arrangement already is in place in some other countries. Here is a blog post by Matthew Schmitz at First Things that quotes and links to a couple of contrasting views on this idea.

Any reasonable person can see the need for civil union laws. People should be taxed fairly, and they should be able to tend their financial affairs without having artificial obstacles placed in their way. I do not want to make gay peoples lives any more difficult than they already are.This does not however, mean that I need to approve of gay marriage, and it does not mean that gay folks should be allowed to adopt children.

It is obvious to anyone that homosexual actions are not normal. It is also obvious to anyone that some folks seem for whatever reason, to have been born with homosexual inclinations. That said, most Americans are tolerant enough and do not wish to press the point; most normal people prefer a life and let live approach. Civil union laws therefore, strike the correct balance.

a couple who wished to be married with the blessing of the church would have two ceremonies: a civil ceremony on Thursday, followed by a church ceremony on Saturday (presumably leaving Friday free for the rehearsal :-)). I believe this arrangement already is in place in some other countries.That's the way it has been in France since the 1790's and I don't see that the Church has had any difficulty with it. It helps to make clear that "civil marriage" (regulated by the state) and "sacramental marriage" (regulated by the Church) are not the same thing - and they each can have their own requirments for who qualifies.The French experience with Civil Unionsinlieu of marriag has been interesting. For 2010, the most recnt igures I could find, the figures were:251,654 Civil Marriages of heterosexual couples196,415 Civil Unions (PACS) of heterosexual couples 9,143 Civil Unions of homosexual couples

Sorry, continuing5,030 Civil Marriages of homosexual couplesThe interesting thing to me is the rising number of heterosexual couples who have chosen Civil Unions rather than Civil Marriage. Now that France is about to make Civil Marriage widely available to homosexual couples, it will be interesting to see what the split between that and Civil Unions will be for them. Figures from

Correction, 251,654 should be 246,624 #7 is particularly fascinating. Pink is the color of the ANTI-gay protesters?Really ... PINK!!!!Crystal: the church hierarchy, no matter where, has the time-honored ability to switch directions on a ha'penny once they know where their boss is heading.

Irene said: "We take on a much bigger commitment when we enter into a Catholic marriage, for example, than when we go to City Hall."Really! My partner and I have been together almost 41 years .. even without benefit of church or city hall.Our marriage (and it is indeed that) has lasted longer than many, many, MANY Catholic Church witnessed matrimonies. No, we did not raise children, nor have a lot of matrimonial arrangements.What you said borders on hubris.

Jim, had you been able to marry in the church, would you have done it? Since you were prevented from formalizing it on a mere technicality, then maybe your mutual commitment has been blessed by God just at it would be in the church.

Would we have early on? Maybe, depending on the church.Would we now ... in a Catholic Church? Not only no, but hell no. We may be up in years but we are not masochists.

@Jim McCrea: Jim, I'm sorry, I'm not questioning your commitment and your marriage; particularly since for many years you did not have the option of entering into a religious or civil marriage. But, for those of us for whom marriage is an option: there is a big difference between living together, without any binding legal ties; entering into a civil marriage, with easy divorce options; or entering into a sacramental marriage in which divorce is not an option.I'm not talking about people's personal commitments, people in any of those relationships could have a lifelong commitment.I'm talking about the nature of the institution: if I live with my partner, I can pick up stakes a lot more easily than if I am married to him, even if I never intend to exercise that option. I don't think living together and being married are at all the same thing, and just as you get offended that someone would question your marriage, I, too, find it a little offensive for people to lump my formal marriage and the commitments that go with it into the same category as people who want to live together for a few years.

entering into a sacramental marriage in which divorce is not an option.Are you sure? In catechism a youth asked me: "why the Catholic church and the Anglicans were not reconciled since the origin of the difference was Henry VIII wanting a divorce, but nowadays the Catholic church recognizes divorce"? Surprised, I answered that no, the Catholic church does not recognize divorce blah blah blah... but yesterday I woke up with the thought that maybe the kid was right and I was wrong. What if divorce is so well accepted by the faithful (to the point where young teenagers are not even aware of the official teaching!) that the sense of the faithful is really the correct, authentic understanding (to borrow from emeritus pope Benedict's favorite words), and the official teaching is lagging behind?

It struck me funny that the original blog post from Lisa Fullam cites a "Vincenzo Paglia." Is he any relation, I thought, to feminist social critic Camille Paglia???If so, I would love to be sitting at the same table on Thanksgiving to hear those two go at it!

" ... if I live with my partner, I can pick up stakes a lot more easily than if I am married to him, ..."And relationships that last without the confines of law, either church or state, do so because of COMMITTMENT, not obligation.We have had to reassess the level of our committment to each other many times under many circumstances. We have survived these many years BECAUSE we want to because of who we are and what we have grown to be, not because some secular law makes divorce onerous or some church law that says divorce is not an option.Church teaching is opposed to divorce, and yet, when one applies for an annulment, Church law REQUIRES that one first obtain a civil divorce. Oh, that's just a civil requirement, we don't really believe the civil divorce is actually a divorce. Yet when it comes to civil marriage of same-sex couples, it is suddenly the end of civilization: that civil marriage is a dire threat, while civil divorces are a mere technicality. This is a double standard no matter how you slice it.In their 2002 book, Catholic Divorce: The Deception of Annulments, Joseph Martos and Pierre Hegy state:Because the grounds for annulment have become so broad that practically anyone who applies for one can obtain it, many observers now regard annulments as virtual divorces. After all, the same grounds for divorce in a civil court have become grounds for the nonexistence of marriage in an ecclesiastical court. (Page 23) To add to the deceit, many couples who receive annulments do so believing that their marriage was, in fact, sacramentally valid that the marital bond did exist but that, over time, it began to break down. These couples, understandably, choose not to disclose this part of the story to marriage tribunals so that they can qualify for an annulment. other words it is the Catholic game of nudge-nudge, wink-wink.Sorry, but I value that kind of committment much more than imposed sitck-to-it-ivness.I know many couples, my parents included, who stayed together within the confines of matrimony during good and bad times. I'm not demeaning those who do that, but I will not agree to the idea that our marriage is any easier or committed than one blessed by the church, state or any other laws.

s/b: " ... any easier or less committed ..."

I guess I don't get the distinction any more. In reality, the government's only interest is in the legal relationship between the two parties to a effect really a civil union. Government's role is to establish the basis for such things as property ownership, inheritance, medical proxies and so forth. It would actually be possible to deal with each of those relationships separately but what a civil marriage does is effectively cut through that need and convey a series of those legal rights and responsibilities. And that is as it should be. Civil marriage, if I may use that term, is only tangentially, if at all, concerned with any other aspects of the relationship between the two people. If we accept that, and we accept that a sacramental marriage is something different, something more profound I would argue, what difference does it make whether we call the legal arrangement a civil union, a marriage or something else entirely? I actually have thought that the Pilgrims' approach of having all marriages as civil ceremonies made the most sense. Those who wish to go further and enter into a sacramental marriage are perfectly free to do so. Churches, Catholic or other, would be free to set their own rules for such marriages in their denominations.

Claire wrote: Are you sure? In catechism a youth asked me: why the Catholic church and the Anglicans were not reconciled since the origin of the difference was Henry VIII wanting a divorce, but nowadays the Catholic church recognizes divorce? Surprised, I answered that no, the Catholic church does not recognize divorce blah blah blah Interesting that the Church recognizes the difference between civil divorce (which dissolves the civil marriage bond) and "religous" divorce that dissolves the scramental marriage bond (not possible)The Catechism says:"2383 The separation of spouses while maintaining the [sacramental] marriage bond can be legitimate in certain cases provided for by canon law.If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense."The practical issue is not divorce but remarriage. Since the Church's view is that only the civil bond has been dissolved but the sacramental bond remains, the couple are still sacramentally married and remarriage is adultery - unless it can be determined that the sacramental marriage was not valid to begin with (aka annulment) Henry VIII's problem was that he wanted to divorce and remarry.

"view" = "teaching"

Unless something is issued pretty soon, the silence from the Vatican on France is deafening. Maybe Francis realizes the boat has sailed.

John, I think that your interpretation seems not quite right, see only Catholics need annulments? Do only Catholic marriages need to be annulled?No and no. [] However, the Church recognizes the marriage of two non-Catholics, or a Catholic who has received a dispensation from form and a non-Catholic, whether they marry in their own church/or non-Christian place of worship, another church or in a civil ceremony (justice of the peace) as long as the ceremony is valid according to civil law. From the perspective of the Catholic Church, therefore, non-Catholics are considered to be validly married persons unless the former spouse has died or the marriage has been declared null by the Catholic Church. Since the Church has the right to determine who may be married in the Catholic Church, it can make a judgment on the validity of the marriage of two non-Catholics if one requests this in order that he or she might be able to marry a Catholic in the Catholic Church.Someone who is divorced is still assumed to be in a valid marriage, even if they are Catholic. It's tolerated as long as they do not give public scandal by having sex with someone other than their ex (i.e. by remarrying). So divorce is "not a moral offense", but neither is it recognized to dissolve the (civil or religious) marriage. The moral issue is remarriage, but the reason why it is a moral issue is that divorce is not recognized.Marriage, whether civil or religious, is assumed to be valid and requires a decree of nullity before remarriage in the Catholic church. (So civil marriage is recognized but not civil divorce.) The only exception is that of a Catholic who married outside the church without doing the proper paperwork with the Catholic church first: then that marriage was invalid in the first place.

More subtleties from EWTN, tying the validity of a non-Catholic marriage to the fact that the parties were baptized: a couple of civilly married, baptized non-Catholics were to become Catholic, then their status would depend on whether their former community recognized the validity of civil marriage or not. If their civil marriage was recognized as valid, then, in the eyes of God and the Church, that marriage would also be sacramental. This is because the Church considers that all valid marriages between baptized persons are automatically sacramental even in those cases where the particular religious community does not number matrimony among the sacraments.If a civilly married couple receive baptism, then the baptism itself transforms their valid civil marriage into a sacramental marriage and this fact is noted on the baptismal register.

In other words a previous marriage, civil or religious in another religious community or religious Catholic, is assumed to be valid and sacramental as long as1) both parties are baptized (even if the baptism happens after the marriage), and2) neither party was Catholic at the time of the marriage (unless there was an official dispensation for the Catholic party.)

So, if the EWTN guy is right, it seems that marriage occupies a special place among the sacraments: its sacramental dimension depends on the rules governing the validity of civil marriage.Baptism is valid outside the Catholic church, but its validity relies on a simple set of conditions determined by the Catholic church (the presence of water and the Trinitarian formula, as I recall.)Marriage is valid outside the Catholic church, but one of the conditions for its validity is whether it is recognized as valid in the community in which it took place, and that, in turn, depends on some set of conditions that varies from place to place, time to time, and community to community. Isn't that weird?

" if the EWTN guy is right"Always an important qualifier :-)

Matrimony is an unusual sacrament in that it is not conferred by a priest or deacon. It is conferred by the couple on each other and only witnessed by a priest or deacon or authorized laypersonIn some cases it can even be conferred by the couple on each other without the presence of any of those people.Can. 1116 1. If a person competent to assist according to the norm of law cannot be present or approached without grave inconvenience, those who intend to enter into a true marriage can contract it validly and licitly before witnesses only:1/ in danger of death;2/ outside the danger of death provided that it is prudently foreseen that the situation will continue for a month.2. In either case, if some other priest or deacon who can be present is available, he must be called and be present at the celebration of the marriage together with the witnesses, without prejudice to the validity of the marriage before witnesses only.

It is interesting to see Irene and Jim McK talking past each other a bit. The tell for me was Irene's comment "I, too, find it a little offensive for people to lump my formal marriage and the commitments that go with it into the same category as people who want to live together for a few years."Is that what you think Jim McK and people like me are about, Irene? If that is your concept of gay marriage, then I certainly understand why you would feel like it is "anti-marriage". But it is a prejudiced conception of gay marriage because it will not acknowledge the utter seriousness of our commitment.Here's the ironic thing: a cultural/political movement that emphasized the permanence and commitment (and seriousness) of marriage would have me firmly in your corner. The primary reason you are losing the battle on gay marriage is not because of the "permanence issue", it is because of rigid insistence on the man/woman natural law formulation that simply cannot accommodate the reality that gays and lesbians exist and have the same fundamental drives for companionship and family that straight men and women do.I really don't think the culture war over gay marriage is fundamentally about permanence or procreation; it is about whether a sexually expressive, monogamous, permanent relationship between two people of the same sex can ever be anything but sinful.

John Hayes,"Matrimony is an unusual sacrament in that it is not conferred by a priest or deacon. It is conferred by the couple on each other..." Exactly and that is a distinction which most people miss and what I mean by a sacramental marriage. The state-sanctioned union, whatever you call it, is about legal rights and responsibilities. The sacramental union is about something more profound. I'm not sure I can define it exactly, but there is a distinction, and the Church actually gets this part right, though they don't seem to understand that they do. I always am reminded of a report I heard on some pop star's 2nd marriage. her first had been to a body guard in Las Vegas and had lasted less than 48 hours. When reporting the new marriage, the reporter commented rather snarkily, "She's on the clock!" Clearly "marriage #1" was not a marriage as Catholics, or really anyone, understands the term,thtough it was legal.

@Jim Hohmann- Actually, I think it is you that is talking past me. I think it is interesting that you interpret my view of sacramental marriage as being a greater commitment than a government-sanctioned marriage as somehow "anti-gay marriage"For the record, I support same-sex civil unions, and I actually support gay sacramental marriage. And nothing I have written says otherwise. What I do think is that a sacramental marriage reflects a more permanent and binding commitment than a civil marriage and that distinction should be recognized. And I think a civil union is in turn, a greater formal commitment than would be a couple living together informally. And I think each of those kinds of relationships should be recognized as distinct from each other. When I freely and publicly bound myself to my husband until death separates us, I did much more than sign on to a right to his pension, and I would like that commitment recognized for what it is. I agree with Jim Dunn's point (and Jim P. touched on it as well); all couples who want a legally recognized relationship, should enter into a government-sanctioned civil union (both same sex and heterosexual). That would promote equality and would protect all of our civil rights.Those of us want to commit to something more than that should also than be free to enter into a more binding sacramental marriage.

I apologize for my misunderstanding and appreciate your taking the time to set me ... errr ... straight :-) Thanks! And your third paragraph speaks precisely for me as well.

@Jim Hohman. I don't always say clearly what I'm trying to say, sorry. And I think someday soon we'll have marriage equality in the US, a good thing for all of us.

The Rhode Island Senate approved a bill to allow same-sex couples to marry. The heavily Roman Catholic state is poised to be the 10th to permit gay marriage. (, tocTic, tocAnd other news from the Catholic world: (

"Marriage is valid outside the Catholic church, but one of the conditions for its validity is whether it is recognized as valid in the community in which it took place, and that, in turn, depends on some set of conditions that varies from place to place, time to time, and community to community. Isnt that weird?"That's almost like saying that whether or not a fetus is a human depends on the opinion of woman carrying it.

"...most normal people prefer a live and let live approach."Color me abnormal. We are all our brother's keeper, no?

Yes, it is rather abnormal..."Really! My partner and I have been together almost 41 years .. even without benefit of church or city hall."As to Henry VIII, the Church could easily have let him off the hook. The Church is very divorce friendly, as seen in the Petrine and Pauline privileges, and it is also able to grant annulments without much fuss. I suspect that the strong character of Catherine of Aragon and her powerful connections were the basic reason for Clement VII's obduracy.

"Really! My partner and I have been together almost 41 years .. even without benefit of church or city hall."A sterling example of love and fidelity, which only the most obtuse will fail to admire.

French Catholics have disgraced themselves.

France has become a very sick country, but one that does not know that it is sick, or will not admit it.

I think there's a weird semantics game going on here, and maybe Claire can clarify some of it.As I understand it, civil unions in France are different from civil marriages, which often precede a church wedding. Civil unions are easier to dissolve (by mail in some cases?) and many heterosexuals have opted for civil unions because they can get marital rights, but divorce is a lot easier. This sounds truly like a "separate but equal" mess.However, as far as I know, civil marriage in the U.S. has not worked like that.I believe that any state in the U.S. that allow gay marriage uses the exact same civil formula for both homo- and heterosexual couples. So there is no real difference between civil union/civil marriage here. Church weddings are civilly legal so long as a couple gets a valid marriage license and is married by someone allowed by that state to marry people. But clergy in any religion or denomination can decline to wed couples, homo- or heterosexual, deemed unsuited for for the state of holy matrimony as defined by the denomination. It has been suggested to me that the Church opposes civil marriages for homosexuals because it will bollix up its recognition of civil marriage for heterosexual non-Catholics coming into the Church (if you were a Catholic married in a civil ceremony without permission, you have to get remarried). That strikes me as illogical because the Church does not recognize the marriage of two people of the same sex as a marriage at all.

In California obtaining a certificate of Domestic Partnership is a simple matter of filing a form with the Secretary of State and paying a nominal fee.For Domestic Partnerships to dissolve the state requires a civil divorce the same as for the dissolution of any form of marriage.Go figure."When I freely and publicly bound myself to my husband until death separates us, I did much more than sign on to a right to his pension, and I would like that commitment recognized for what it is."And for those of us who don't even qualify for a right to our partner's pension? We would like OUR commitment recognized for that THAT is.

Jean: yes. Civil unions = PACS are easier to form and to dissolve. They're open to couples of any combination of genders (FF, MF, MM). Civil marriage = marriage is more difficult to form and to dissolve, and was only open to heterosexual couples until this week. Religious wedding = from the viewpoint of the state, some magical sounding formulas said by some minister, but with no legal meaning. Forbidden to people who are not already in a civil marriage.That's for Catholics, protestants, jews. Not for Moslems: the question of Moslem religious weddings came up after the 1905 law, so for them the rules are different, and I am told that they don't have to go to the city hall prior to a religious wedding. Somehow the imam serves not just as a religious figure but also as a representative of the French government when officiating at a Moslem wedding.Note that a civil marriage in France involves three parties: the two spouses and also the state. (It is considered that marriage is good for society and is in the state's interest). It's a 3-way contract, that's why divorce is not just a matter of spouse agreeing to go apart. The state has to agree. It takes, at a minimum, two meetings with a judge, with several months in between to give people a chance to reconcile. The judge sees each spouse separately and interviews them privately to check that there has been no threat from the other spouse pushing them to accept the divorce against their will, or other things that would render a request for divorce invalid. When I got divorced, our lawyer told us what words to say when answering the judge's questions if we wanted to make the procedure as easy and fast as possible. When we got to the tribunal, he asked the other lawyers, as a favor, if we could cut the line and go first, because he was in a hurry and because our case was going to be so straightforward. They graciously accepted. But then, instead of answering questions by repeating the words of the drill, I started answering according to the truth, and the deviation from the script earned us all long interviews while a line of spouses and lawyers formed in the hallway, giving us angry looks on the way out. Our lawyer shrugged and accepted my lack of cooperation without complaining.

"...which only the most obtuse will fail to admire."Color me abnormal AND obtuse. But why does it always seem to be the far left that thinks name calling is a form of argumentation?

This dilemma can be solved by treating all couples aspiring to wed the same way--but not in the way currently proposed.In the United States, couples intending to wed go to the local authority and get a license to marry. This is not a marriage. The local magistrate can perform that service, but more commonly, the ceremony is performed by the couple's clergy in a religious setting. Clergies are authorized by the state to sign the marriage certificate, attesting to the contract, thereby fulfilling the state's requirements.The solution to the dilemma is for states to dispense with licenses, revoke clergy authorizations, and require all couples, gay and straight, who desire to wed to make application for and undertake a civil union witnessed by the local magistrate. In one stroke, this would remove the dispute over marriage from the political arena. If a religious wedding is desired, the couple will have to take it up with their pastor or, in the case of the gay couple, find a clergy who is disposed to perform the ceremony.I first heard of this in 1953 when my friend wanted to marry in what was then French Morocco. They had to have a civil marriage. What they did affter was their choice. They had a religious wedding.

James, I don't quite see what the dilemma is. Why make people get married twice? I don't see anything wrong with extending the state's power to officiate at marriages to clergy. Neither do I see anything wrong with clergy declining, on religious grounds, to marry people. Or with people who prefer not to have a religious service to go to a JP.

It's time to stop deputizing clergy as officials of the state when it comes to weddings. They don't have that authority with respect to any other activity that has a religious component.All the current situation does is give churches unwarranted influence when in comes to resisting marriage equality.Many countries in Europe .. and the church ... have learned to live with all couples having civil marriages that impart secular rights, priviliges, benefits and responsibilities. Any religious ceremony thereafter is up to the couples in question and the religious groups if they choose to solemnize the marriages of those secularly married couples.A religious group refusing to marry a couple for any reason should not have the slightest influence on the obtaining secular benefits that result from a civil marriage.

"It is interesting to see Irene and Jim McK talking past each other a bit. "Jim H - I know Irene untangled the substance of the confusion on this, but I just want to add that I think you may have meant Jim McCrea, rather than Jim McK - as far as I know, they're not the same person (although I admit I've never seen them together :-)).To round out the confusion, I'm Jim P, and in my book, you're now Jim H. And there are still other Jims who pop up to comment from time to time. And in at least one of the NT lists, two of the twelve apostles were James.

I wish dotCommonweal allowed us to post snapshots of ourselves. I still stumble over the names of Jim McK and Jim McCrea, and Mark Proska and Mark Preece, and Anne and Anne and Ann, and Caroline nad Carolyn.

As Jim McC I claim direct descendance from James the Greater.Pictures? No way!!! There is not greater destroyer of the delight of fantasy than the coldness of reality.(although I admit Ive never seen them together :-)). ... nor have I. But if Jim McK will spring for a Ketel One dirty martini up, I'll give it a try.

"(although I admit Ive never seen them together :-)). nor have I. But if Jim McK will spring for a Ketel One dirty martini up, Ill give it a try."I still owe Boudway a drink for some other time the church failed to measure up to my loony standards. If we can all converge somewhere at the same time, I'll stand a round.

The SF Bay Area is lovely this time of year and there are many good watering holes that make a mean martini.And I'll stand for a good seafood dinner.

If you want to see pictures of people on here, you can join the Commonweal Facebook page, where others can see your mug. I'm not on there, but if you've seen those Maxine greeting cards, that's pretty much it.

Thanks, Jean, but I don't know how to navigate Facebook. I joined because it sends news from my friends, but I rarely post myself.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment