In a 2015 pastoral letter on the same-sex marriage debate, themed ‘Don’t mess with marriage’, the Catholic Bishops of Australia observed that “At this time in history, there is much discussion about the meaning of marriage”.
In Malta, although certain laws were introduced that directly or indirectly changed the meaning of marriage, unfortunately, there was little debate both in Parliament and in the social arena. The government has now declared it will introduce ‘same-sex marriage’. I am convinced that if a debate takes place, the stand of the Catholic Church might be of great help to all those of goodwill who would like to make the right choice for the common good.
Justice requires us to treat people fairly and, therefore, not to make arbitrary, groundless distinctions.
Thus, we must treat like cases alike and different cases differently. It, therefore, follows that if the union between a man and a woman is different from other unions then justice demands that we treat that union accordingly.
Marriage is an institution designed to support people of the opposite sex to be faithful to each other and to the children of their union. This truth is not only based on faith but also on sociological, psychological and anthropological evaluations and considerations.
Such truth is inscribed in man’s nature; it is ‘natural law’.
The Australian bishops argue that what is unjust – “gravely unjust” – is: “to legitimise the false assertion that there is nothing distinctive about a man and a woman, a father or a mother; to ignore the particular values that real marriage serves; to ignore the importance for children of having, as far as possible, a mum and a dad, committed to them and to each other for the long haul; to destabilise marriage further at a time when it is already under considerable pressure; and to change retrospectively the basis upon which all existing married couples got married.”
If civil law ceases to define marriage for what it really is, it will be a serious injustice and will undermine that common good for which civil law exists.
Same-sex relationships are of a different kind to heterosexual relationships: to treat them as the same does a grave injustice to both kinds of relationships and ignores the particular values on which marriage is based.
Sometimes, people claim that children do just fine with two mothers or two fathers and that there is “no difference” between households with same-sex parents and heterosexual parents. However, sociological research, as well as the long experience of the Church and society, attests to the importance of children having both a mother and father. Thus, the Australian bishops conclude that ‘messing with marriage is also ‘messing with kids’.
When we come to legislation regarding ‘same-sex marriage’, it is very important to keep in mind that the word ‘marriage’ is not simply a label that can be attached and transferred to different types of relationships as the fashion of the day dictates.
It has an intrinsic or natural meaning despite other considerations or legislations introduced by the State.
Besides, marriage reflects God’s plan for humanity, our personal growth and that of our children and society.
To say that other relationships cannot be considered as a marriage is not to demean those other relationships or the individuals concerned but merely to recognise that marriage is the covenant of a man and a woman to live as husband and wife, exclusively and for life and be open to the procreation of children.
Considering the present debate, all the Maltese and Gozitans that truly support the institution of marriage are called to make their views known to their parliamentary representatives. These should then be left to make an informed and ‘free’ decision.
While democracy should in no way be considered as the rule of the majority at all costs, such an important decision on an institution that is crucial for society as a whole should have a natural and real democratic course, ensuring proper debate and reflection.
Fr Renato Borg spent 19 years as secretary to the late Gozo Bishop Nikol Cauchi.