Okay, this is going to be a short post on the continuing topic of “same-sex marriage”.
Some bishops (eg. Archbishop Vincent Nichols and Bishop Greg O’Kelly) have seen something of a life-line thrown to them by “civil unions” as alternative to “same-sex marriage”. A bit of caution here from the Vatican’s own directives on the matter.
The first step in clarity for Catholics (including bishops) in discussing this issue should be to refuse to use the word “unions” to describe the cohabitation of same-sex couples. These are NOT “unions”, but partnerships. The idea that marriage is a “union” is, if I am not mistaken, a specifically Judeo-Christian one, following on texts such as Genesis 2:24 and Matthew 19:5. As such it is appropriate to discuss the question of “union” in relation to marriage as a religious concept, and not a legal, secular concept.
In Christian thinking, marriage between one man and one woman is a “union” because man and woman are fundamentally orientated towards one another. This is a biological fact, but one that goes much deeper, according to Jesus’ teaching, to include a union at the level of being (ie. REALITY). The Genesis text makes it clear that God created humans “in his image” precisely as “man and woman”. Analogies help here: such as knives and forks and nuts and bolts. A nut and a bolt are oriented to one another in a fundamental fashion such that you can’t build a structure with only bolts or only nuts. “Man and woman” can form a unity in just the same way that “nut and bolt” form a union. Two nuts or two bolts form a pair, not a unity.
If (IF) it is believed beneficial to the State to regulate in some way the personal affairs of cohabiting persons of the same sex, fine. Personally, I would be supportive of any legislation that makes it possible for any two people (without any reference at all to the sex or sexual activity of the partners – how can you make a legal contract dependant upon what people do in “the privacy of their own bedrooms”?) to form a binding partnership with legal protection. But we should under all circumstances avoid calling them “unions”, since to do so is the equivalent of calling them “marriages”. Only marriage forms a “union”.