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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.)

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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.

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About the Author

Lisa Fullam is associate 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).