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).