It may be a pastoral letter – from a bishop to his church in a diocese in just one part of the world – but it speaks reason to reason and not just to faith to reason. What is more, it put questions to those who claim to be reasonable. Those questions have been asked before but have not been answered – they have just provoked abuse. The fear of many – and it is echoed in this letter – is that this abuse will soon become judicial and violent, and the questions will still remain unanswered.
Thomas John Paprocki is the Catholic Bishop of Springfield in Illinois. He has written to the Catholics of his diocese, but his message can resonate around the whole of the Western world which is now in the grip of the campaign for the redefinition of human nature and the institutions society has forged from within that nature to help its own true fulfilment. He writes in the context of the state of Illinois’s consideration of a legislative proposal called “The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.”
Without mincing his word’s, Paprocki says, “A more fraudulent title for this dangerous measure could not be imagined. The proposed law is, in truth, a grave assault upon both religious liberty and marriage.” The bill as drafted would in the first instance, he says, be trying to legislate an untruth.
What is that untruth and why is it untruthful? He explains why, with rational precision, and in terms which can be transferred with very little difficulty to every legislature in the world which is contemplating similar legislation :
The pending bill would, for the first time in our state’s history, redefine marriage to legally recognize same-sex “marriages.” But neither two men nor two women – nor, for that matter, three or more people – can possibly form a marriage. Our law would be lying if it said they could.
The basic structure of marriage as the exclusive and lasting relationship of a man and a woman, committed to a life which is fulfilled by having children, is given to us in human nature.
Notwithstanding the vanity of human wishes, every society in human history – including every society untouched by Jewish or Christian revelation – has managed to grasp this profound truth about human relationships and happiness: marriage is the union of man and woman.
The bill’s sponsors maintain it would simply extend marriage to some people who have long been arbitrarily excluded from it. They are wrong. The pending bill would not expand the eligibility-roster for marriage. It would radically redefine what marriage is- for everybody.
It would enshrine in our law – and thus in public opinion and practice – three harmful ideas:
What essentially makes a marriage is romantic-emotional union.
Children don’t need both a mother and father.
The main purpose of marriage is adult satisfactions.
These ideas would deepen the sexual revolution’s harms on all society. After all, if marriage is an emotional union meant for adult satisfactions, why should it be sexually exclusive? Or limited to two? Or pledged to permanence? If children don’t need both their mother and father, why should fathers stick around when romance fades? As marriage is redefined, it becomes harder for people to see the point of these profoundly important marital norms, to live by them, and to encourage others to do the same. The resulting instability hurts spouses, but also – and especially – children, who do best when reared by their committed mother and father.
Indeed, children’s need – and right – to be reared by the mother and father whose union brought them into being explains why our law has recognized marriage as a conjugal partnership – the union of husband and wife – at all. Our lawmakers have understood that marriage is naturally oriented to procreation, to family. Of course, marriage also includes a committed, intimate relationship of a sort which some same-sex couples (or multiple lovers in groups of three or more) could imitate. But our law never recognized and supported marriage in order to regulate intimacy for its own sake. The reason marriage is recognized in civil law at all (as ordinary friendships, or other sacraments, are not) is specific to the committed, intimate relationships of people of opposite-sex couples: they are by nature oriented to having children. Their love-making acts are life-giving acts.
Same-sex relationships lack this unique predicate of state recognition and support. Even the most ideologically blinded legislator cannot change this natural fact: the sexual acts of a same-sex couple (regardless of how one views them morally) are simply not of the type that yield the gift of new life. So they cannot extend a union of hearts by a true bodily union. They cannot turn a friendship into the one-flesh union of marriage. They are not marital. This is not just a Christian idea, but one common to every major religious tradition and our civilization’s great philosophical traditions, beginning with ancient Greece and Rome.
But the Illinois bill, which is seeking to have its cake and eat it, is also deceptive in another important way – as are the proposals of David Cameron’s coalition government in the United Kingdom and every other legislature we know of trying to do to the same thing. It is pretending that this legislation, if passed, will not conflict with the religious freedom of the citizens of any country which adopts its model. Those legislators who are not inherently hostile to religion – and many are – are burying their heads in the sand if they do not recognise that this legislation is going to lead to a denial of freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and ultimately to religious persecution.
The pending bill is not only a dangerous social experiment about marriage. It is also a lethal attack upon religious liberty. This so-called “religious freedom” would not stop the state from obligating the Knights of Columbus to make their halls available for same-sex “weddings.” It would not stop the state from requiring Catholic grade schools to hire teachers who are legally “married” to someone of the same sex. This bill would not protect Catholic hospitals, charities, or colleges, which exclude those so “married” from senior leadership positions. Nor would it protect me, the Bishop of Springfield, if I refused to employ someone in a same-sex “marriage” who applied to the Diocese for a position meant to serve my ministry as your bishop. This “religious freedom” law does nothing at all to protect the consciences of people in business, or who work for the government. We saw the harmful consequences of deceptive titles all too painfully last year when the so-called “Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act” forced Catholic Charities out of foster care and adoption services in Illinois.
These threats do not raise a question about drafting a better law, one with more extensive conscience protections. There is no possible way – none whatsoever- for those who believe that marriage is exclusively the union of husband and wife to avoid legal penalties and harsh discriminatory treatment if the bill becomes law. Why should we expect it be otherwise? After all, we would be people who, according to the thinking behind the bill, hold onto an “unfair” view of marriage. The state would have equated our view with bigotry – which it uses the law to marginalize in every way short of criminal punishment.
He proposes to the citizens of his state, and his proposal con be considered by every reasonable citizen of the world: The only way to protect religious liberty, and to preserve marriage, is to defeat this perilous proposal. Please make sure our elected representatives understand that and know that they will be held to account. We should all do the same when this campaign – as it certainly will where it has not done so already – puts pressure on our democratic representatives to consider similar legislation.