In defence of same-sex unions


Frank Brennan article from the Sydney Morning HeraldThe messy same-sex marriage debate continues in Australia and in the US. I remain of the view that we should not extend the definition of marriage to include same-sex unions; that we should legislate to recognise same-sex unions; and that we should leave questions about the legal availability of new technologies for the creation of children by same-sex couples for determination at a later date.

In Australia, the issue is focused in the Parliament; and in the US in the courts. Here the Prime Minister has committed her party to consulting with the public while deciding how to deal with the Greens on the issue. There the President has decided his Administration will no longer argue for the constitutionality of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act in court proceedings.

For many same-sex marriage advocates, the debate is a matter of equality and non-discrimination. A person should be allowed to marry the person they love whatever the gender of the partner.

The trouble with much human rights discourse is that it is too readily reduced to assertions about individual rights and non-discrimination. Human rights discourse needs to be more subtle when it comes to a conflict of rights situation, or when the law is having to consider the public interest or the common good as well as individual liberties.

Historically the state had little interest in recognising and enhancing the place of marriage as a social institution just for the good of the couple. The state interest in marriage is just as focused on the rights of the children and the need to provide support for the social structure most suited to the rearing and nurturing of children.

Though there has never been an ideal time when all children were born into a marriage, we have maintained marriage as the ideal institution for the raising of children by their biological parents.

In Australian civil law, we recognise de facto relationships as well as marriages. Marriage is covered by Commonwealth law, while de facto relationships are largely governed by state and territory laws. Marriage should remain a Commonwealth matter.

If the Commonwealth Parliament were to attempt legislatively to expand the common law definition of marriage to include a union between two persons of the same-sex, there would probably be a High Court challenge to determine whether such an attempt was constitutional, given that the Commonwealth Parliament has a restricted power to make laws 'with respect to marriage'.

Under our Constitution, the Parliament cannot increase its powers just by legislatively redefining the constitutional heads of power. To take a very different example, the Commonwealth Parliament has power to make laws with respect to 'lighthouses, lightships, beacons and buoys'. It cannot willy-nilly define lighthouses to include tall inner city buildings and then make laws governing those buildings.

Just as the states and territories deal with de facto relationships, the best way to proceed is for the states and territories to give recognition to same-sex civil unions. That way we can accord equality to same-sex couples in their relationships without changing the nature of state recognised marriage.

While some human rights activists think this approach unprincipled, there are many Catholics who wonder how a Catholic priest can approve even civil recognition of same-sex unions. After all, Pope Benedict, before he became pope, taught constantly the immorality of all homosexual acts.

He also spoke against state recognition of same-sex relationships when he headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Some Catholics agree completely with this teaching. Others find it problematic.

Back in 1986, then Cardinal Ratzinger taught: 'Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.'

Though homosexual acts committed by a heterosexual person might be judged immoral, one cannot credibly cast judgment on all such acts committed by a homosexual person without first taking into account the personal and relational context of the sexual act.

There are homosexual persons who enter into loving, faithful and committed relationships. These persons should be able to live in society free from discrimination, without state interference and with state support and approval. They should enjoy the same state protection as de facto couples enjoy under existing state and territory laws.

It is very difficult to characterise such a law giving this non-discriminatory protection to same-sex couples as 'so harmful to the common good as to be gravely immoral' as Benedict has previously done. It is at least contestable whether such a law would be harmful to the common good.

Not everyone who opposes same-sex marriage is a religious bigot or enemy of human rights. We need to keep an eye on the rights of all persons, including future generations of children, and on the maintenance of a social institution which is about more than the couple. We should continue to distinguish marriage from other relationships in the law whether they be de facto or same-sex.


Frank BrennanFr Frank Brennan SJ is professor of law at the Public Policy Institute, Australian Catholic University and adjunct professor at the College of Law and the National Centre for Indigenous Studies, Australian National University. 

Topic tags: Frank Brennan, same-sex marriage, civil unions, de facto


submit a comment

Existing comments

That's very well said, very carefully and refreshingly written. Thanks. An awful lot of roaring muck has been said and written about this issue and its implications; how pleasant to see something reasoned, attentive to law and culture, honest about the glories and folleries of our ancient and brilliant faith.

I agree with Frank that"marriage" actually means something, legally and morally, but years ago I remember snapping awake and realizing, wait a minute, who could possibly object to people who love each other swearing commitment, throwing in together financially and morally, and adding another sweet pillar to that curious entity we call a healthy society? Not me.
brian doyle | 10 March 2011

"Human rights discourse needs to be more subtle when it comes to a conflict of rights situation..."

There is no conflict here. Allowing full marriage equality for same-sex couples does not conflict with anyone else's rights.

"The state interest in marriage is just as focused on the rights of the children and the need to provide support for the social structure most suited to the rearing and nurturing of children."

Which is two stable, loving parents. Gender is not relevant in this equation. All available evidence has shown that being raised by a same-sex couple is no more inherently detrimental to a child than being raised by a male-female couple.

"Pope Benedict, before he became pope, taught constantly the immorality of all homosexual acts."

When he wasn't busy covering up the actions of pedophile priests. Which is more immoral, allowing children to be sexually abused, or allowing two people who love each other to marry and raise children?

Religion doesn't own marriage, any more than it owns morality. Either all of us are equal, or none of us are.

RobC | 10 March 2011

I appreciated Fr Frank Brennan's article. I appreciated the values and the clarity with which they were expressed and the law explained.

I'm seeing a shift in our attitude to people of another sexual orientation, who want to be in a committed, loving relationship. And I agree that we need to understand the difference between the laws governing that type of union and the union in marriage. Many thanks for this piece of lucid writing.
millie | 10 March 2011

Fidelity and procreation are at the heart of marriage. Being "gay" or otherwise actively homosexual are about sexual liberation and in the natural sense, sterility. "Gay marriage" and "homosexual unions" are, in theory and practice, a pathway to despair. It is a pity there are not more Jesuits prepared to publicly promote the Gospel of Life in its fullness.

Tim Pemble-Smith | 10 March 2011

This may inform the current discussion.
Sandy Yule & CUWG | 10 March 2011

Fr Brennan:

"... one cannot credibly cast judgment on all such acts committed by a homosexual person without first taking into account the personal and relational context of the sexual act"

The Catholic Church:

(Catholic) Tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered". They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved." (Catechism 2357)

So it's the opinion of Fr Brennan vs the doctrine of the Catholic Church, taught unambiguously by councils, bishops, popes, saints, doctors of the Church and with magisterial authority, across the centuries from Her inception.

Let the reader decide.

HH | 10 March 2011

Oh HH if only it were that simple!
Anne Schmid | 10 March 2011

In response to HH's reasonable observations, I would suggest that the reason that the Catholic Church has a teaching office is because teachings can change: if teaching were monolithic, we would not need a magisterium: we would simply need a book. My favourite example of the Church's teaching having to change has to do with the question of the Antipodes and their human habitation (which means us in Australia): in 748 Pope Zacharius put a ban on the idea of the Antipodes and their human occupation, describing it s a perverse and iniquitous doctrine (see Migne, Patrologie Latina XLI, 487). So I think it is fair to say that we should have an informed discussion of the status of same sex unions, especially if we are to share the joys and hopes and griefs and anxieties of our sisters and brothers in the modern world.
John Honner | 10 March 2011

FR BRENNAN STATED "one cannot credibly cast judgment on all such acts committed by a homosexual person without first taking into account the personal and relational context of the sexual act." FR BRENNAN KNOWS THE RCC CONDEMNS SITUATION ETHICS
FATHER JOHN GEORGE | 10 March 2011

Thanks you Fr Brennan; what you suggest seems to me an extremely sensible and positive way forward that,with good-will,could satisfy just about everyone (though itn probably won`t!). Thank goodness for the seperation of State and Commonwealth roles for once.What is sure is that the current situation is unsustainable, and with the wide social acceptance that homosexual couples will parent children for life, the need for such change in the Law at some level is urgent.
Eugene | 10 March 2011

There is a fundamental difference between a de facto couple and a same-sex couple, a de facto couple has the freedom to get married if they so desire. Same-sex couples are currently denied this freedom. Freedom can only be considered a RIGHT to the point where it encroaches on the freedom of another.

I don't see how 2 people of the same gender, entering into a private marriage has anything to do with anybody else, let alone encroach on their freedom. Can you explain to me how same-sex marriage adversely affects the 'public interest' or 'common good'?

Tradition and culture are NO defence. If we never questioned tradition and culture we would never evolve. Catholics would not be marrying protestants. Women would not be voting, where do I stop?

If any given church has religious objections to same sex marriage, then don't allow it in your church. But to have any say in Commonwealth legislation on religious grounds in unacceptable. Your freedom to object can not extend to the point where it encroaches on the freedom of gay couples and their rights to marriage equality.

Andrew | 10 March 2011

I am discomfited at the harsh tone of some of these comments. Don't the Scriptures say judge not lest you be judged?
MBG | 10 March 2011

Marriage has been defined for many generations as the union of a man and a women forming a family and usually producing children. It has been accepted by nearly all tribes and generations. I cannot think of any reason why this definition should be changed to accept same sex unions. Why not invent a new word to refer to homosexual unions after all we would not call these unions horses, grapes or boats because like marriage we know what these words have represented for generations.
Peter | 10 March 2011

@John Honner Pope Zacharius was clearly referring to the concept of a race not descended from our first parents. He was not engaging in a discussion on scientific facts, but rather the affects of original sin on the human race. If the Pope was in fact referring to scientific principles, then it would be irrelevant to this discussion anyway as the Church's area of teaching is Faith and Morals. One of the primary principles of the Church that has been held for 2000 years is that it was instituted by Christ as a seat of truth. In Luke 10:6 Christ says to his apostles and their successors "He who hears you hears me". In John 1:1 we learn that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God". God not only speaks the truth but is very truth itself. Scripture tells us unequivocally that, on matters of faith and morals, what we hear from the seat of Peter is Christ, truth itself, speaking to us. To deny this is to say that the scriptures err. If a primary point in the scriptures is in error, then it conflicts with the concept that God is truth itself. If this were to be the case then we must ask ourselves, why would we say every Sunday "We believe in the holy catholic church" (In the Original latin it is actually closer to "I believe the holy catholic church") to say that we believe in falsehood is to make a mockery of truth. The visible hierarchy of the Church exists for a number of different reasons, to give glory to God, to preach and evangelize, to safeguard the truth, and to administer the sacraments. None of these things could be done by a book. Furthermore, while truth does not change, circumstances do and thus a book would be too rigid of its own. Not because truth is relative, but because circumstance can confuse and cloud the truth from people. @Andrew It is rightly contestable as to whether the state should interfere with certain private matters. However, the subject of marriage is most certainly not a private matter. The state has always provided certain public benefits to married couples in recognition of the fact that the family is the very basis of society. That two people love each other is no basis for the conferral of these rights. I very much greatly love my mother, probably more than I will love anyone else for the rest of my life. However, this does not mean that I should be afforded rights above my fellow citizens. To confer benefits to people on the basis of whether they love each other is horribly discriminatory against those who are unlucky in their love life. Furthermore, as all power held by governments is given by God, all governments are called to uphold his law. As Christ says in Mathew 22:21 "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God, the things that are God's.". Being in a position of power cannot absolve our duty to God. If we as Christians firmly believe something to be wrong, to not lobby a government unceasingly to fix that wrong would be to deny ourselves of Christian love and charity.
Francis | 10 March 2011

I agree.
Bev smith | 10 March 2011

1]Fr Honner must understand SSU ethics is far removed from 8th century antipodean demographics-
2]ssu ethics pertains to specific perverse homosexual objective acts;
3]pope zacharius promulgated his personal prudential decision re antipodes not strictly a heavy magisterial decree-
4]the irrevocable doctrine against homosexual acts is grounded in perennial scripture and magisterial teaching
5]pope Z'S 'prudential' judgement is hardly grounded in scripture and magisterium but rather in popes 'personal' limited observations[not within ambit of official magisterial petrine office versus fallible personal prudential evaluation[especially on 8th century Antipodes!!!! IS THIS FR H's STRONGEST ARGUMENT??

FATHER JOHN GEORGE | 10 March 2011

Francis would have us believe that when we recite the Creed’s words “We believe in the holy catholic church" that we mean the Roman Catholic Church. We do, but we don’t just mean the Roman Catholic Church, we mean the Church as defined by the Council of Nicea. The word catholic, derived from the Greek adjective katholikos, means "universal". It means “whole" or "in general". The saints and others at Nicea knew the word to mean "including a wide variety of things; all-embracing", in other words inclusive of all churches East and West, which was what the Church is, still today.

The saints and others at Nicea would not have known what you meant by "the Roman Catholic Church,” though they certainly knew about Rome and about people who speak in Latin. The concept of a Catholic Church that is specifically Roman only emerges at the Council of Trent, when for the first time the Western Church was forced to define itself as peculiar and therefore separate from all the other churches of the West. In my view, any

Christian who recites the Nicene Creed is really using the word Catholic in the Nicene sense and furthermore they actually believe in the Catholic Church.

Desiderius Erasmus | 10 March 2011

There is great confusion over the meaning of homosexuality which is a modern term to describe sexual orientation and not just homosexual acts.

One must distinguish between any form of sexual abuse whether it takes place either in marriage or outside it and with either sex and a loving relationship between equals.It is only in recent years that the State has become involved in marriage through registers. Common law mariage was accepted, but if one had wealth or property if one was not married in church it was hard to prove that ones children were legitimate.
John Ozanne | 10 March 2011

Why not call it a legalised relationship? Otherwise the whole definition of marriage needs to be changed.
Fr John Evans | 10 March 2011

How does one decide whether something is disordered or not? Most people would still believe that it is wrong for a man to have sexual relations with his sister or his mother or his child, or any child, or an animal.

There might be real love there in any of those situations. Once most people would have had the same belief about two people of the same sex having sexual relations. Now a lot of people believe that that is just another valid way of relating to one another, and so not disordered. But how did they decide that/ What are the criteria?
Gavan Breen | 10 March 2011

Well stated, Frank.
I believe that people in same-sex relationships need to be accorded all the legal rights of people in a heterosexual relationships.

What I have yet to hear is what people in same-sex relationships define as " marriage " and what they see they are missing out on by not being officially " married "
Noel Will | 10 March 2011

Desiderius Erasmus nuance of early church usage of 'catholic. overlooks the evolution of word catholic as general and inclusive to a closely nuanced exclusive particularity even before nicaea and later beyond in early church history
FATHER JOHN GEORGE | 10 March 2011

In what sense is this a conflict of rights situation? Surely you cannot be arguing the case that heterosexual marriage would be adversely effected? And if so can you point to concrete examples of the adverse effects on heterosexual marriage in those jurisdictions which have already recognised marriage equality?

On a separate issue, I find it interesting that the list of jurisdictions with homosexual marriage is so dominated by Catholic nations and northern European social democracies.
Alan | 10 March 2011

[I FRJG MEAN THE RCC WHEN I USE THE CREEDS] ERASMUS MAY BE INTERESTED IN DR RUMBLE MSC TAKE ON 'CATHOLIC'] IN RADSIO REPLIES 497. You claim that your Church has not only the marks of unity and holiness, hut also of Catholicity. What does the word Catholic mean? It is derived from the Greek language, and means universal and complete. And as Christ told His Apostles to go and teach all nations all His doctrines, the word Catholic is reserved to that Church which alone teaches all Christ's doctrines to all peoples — the Catholic Church. St. Ignatius of Antioch, about the year 110, first used the word to designate the true Church. He wrote, "Where the Bishop is, there is the Catholic Church." Donatism broke away from the Church in the 4th century, just as Protestantism in the 16th, and St. Augustine declared that this heresy was cut off from the Catholic Church. In the same 4th century Pacian used the word Catholic as a mark of identification, saying, "Christian is my name, Catholic my surname." He did not wish to be taken for one of those who protested against the Catholic Church, yet still continued to call themselves Christians.
FATHER JOHN GEORGE | 10 March 2011

So many comments miss Frank Brennan's point.
First, it is not the function of the civil law to enforce morality. It is to legislate for the common good. Adultery is morally wrong. Is its suggested we should make it a criminal offence?

Second, The Federal Parliament does not have power to redefine marriage. That can be done only by a referendum or by a decision of the High Court.

Third, People are entering into same sex relationships, which they intend at the time to be permanent. Situations of dependence can arise, children can be involved, property can be acquired. Some of those relationships will certainly break down before death. But the laws that provide for what orders a Court can make when that happens are either non existent or inconsistent between States and Territories, and not as comprehensive as the provisions of the Family Law Act. The rules relating to constructive trusts are not really adequate to enable justice to be done in the myriad circumstances that can arise.

To my mind, this is the problem that should be being discussed. The common good requires that that there be fair and consistent legislation throughout Australia, not only for the official recognition of the existence of same sex unions, but also providing for what may happen when they break down, just as legislation exists for de facto unions between heterosexuals. The present argument, in the Federal sphere, only means that the real problems are not being investigated where they should be, namely in COAG, with a view to uniform State and Territory legislation. Time and energy is being wasted in Federal Parliament, which has, in practical terms, no power to do anything meaningful in the area, when they should be getting on with problems that are theirs to deal with, such as tax, carbon and refugees.
Alan Hogan

Alan Hogan | 10 March 2011

Thank you Father John George for directing us to the old Catholic Encyclopedia’s definition of ‘catholic’, which follows the predictable pattern to be expected from the old Catholic Encyclopedia (1917). If one is looking for nuance it’s the place to go, but what is missing here is Father John’s personal opinion.

When I quote ‘catholic’ in its Nicene sense the last thing I am doing is nuance, I am giving the definition of the word as it would have been understood by the saints and other remarkable people meeting at Nicea (325) at the behest of the Emperor Constantine, whose name itself is a reminder that the centre of empire was shifting East.

The evolution of the word ‘catholic’ since is fascinating for all Christians, including all those who continue to use the word in the Nicene sense when they recite the Creed. Dr Rumble is terrific to hear again, except when he is arrogant enough to say that “the word Catholic is reserved to that Church which alone teaches all Christ's doctrines to all peoples — the Catholic Church.”

You can believe that if you want to, but it flies in the face of centuries of Christian history and contradicts the purpose of the word ‘catholic’ in the Creed. Not that the Catholic Church isn’t ‘catholic’.

Father John George has chosen not to discuss the more challenging aspect of my original commentary, which is when the Latin Church of the West first defined itself as the Roman Catholic Church. My view is that this was after Avignon, not before, and after the distasteful Diet of Worms, and not before.

Desiderius Erasmus | 10 March 2011

"Not everyone who opposes same-sex marriage is a religious bigot or enemy of human rights".

(How are you defining 'human'?)

"We need to keep an eye on the rights of all persons, including future generations of children"
(So you mean, ensure that children born gay in the future understand that they are 2nd-class creatures whose dreams of growing up and getting married will be tainted with the shame and self-disgust engendered by this dehumanising double standard, twisting their little minds and hearts in a painful path to self-destruction and a sad salvation proffered by an angry, rebellious, marginalised subculture?)

"We should continue to distinguish marriage from other relationships in the law whether they be de facto or same-sex"
(De facto? Shacking up? Is the same as two people wanting to commit their lives to each other????
Jane Waller | 10 March 2011

The flaw in the argument that same-sex marriage would amount to 'redefining' marriage under the Constitutional head of power with respect to marriage is that, until the Liberal government NARROWED the definition of marriage to exclude same sex unions (by specifying it could only occur between a man and a woman), the Marriage Act did not actually specify gender. Thus it was always within the power of the Commonwealth to legislate for same-sex marriage, and remains so.
LegalEagle | 11 March 2011

What about using the word "wedlock"? We are wedlocked. A ceremony of wedlocking. This child has two female parents who are in wedlock. The legal rights pertaining to marriage apply to all forms of wedlock.
Michael Grounds | 11 March 2011

In an interview with a US Democratic and liberal member of the US Congress, who supports gay marriage, Stephen Colbert of "The Colbert Report",outrageously asked the congressman the following question: "Next year might it be ok to marry a chicken?". The congressman answered "NO". When Colbert pressed him about "Chickens'Rights", the congressman was unable to give a satisfactory answer.
Claude Rigney | 11 March 2011

I don't think demeaning talk about chicken marriage helps anyone in this discussion. And Legaleagle needs to concede that there is a preliminary unresolved constitutional question about the ambit of the Commonwealth's marriage power before you get to issues of interpretation of valid Commonwealth legislation about marriage.
Frank Brennan SJ | 11 March 2011

As a primary school teacher I want to draw people's attention to how this very adult 'discourse' about gay marriage and homosexuality is impacting on children. Children are being taught that they could be gay. That being gay is ok. That they have no right to object to 'gayness', or even complain about someone making gay advances towards them. Gay is normal and acceptable and to think otherwise is bigoted, they are being taught. Some may say this is a wonderful new development in acceptance of homosexuality, but I see it creating anxiety, confusion and even fear amongst little children. Those of us over 30 might remember that the big crises we went through with regard to sexuality, dating etc. tended to happen in our teens and later. Now little children, 5, 6, 7 year olds are wondering what it means to be gay. And wondering if they are gay. The pressure on teenagers now is not just to prove you are sexually attractive to the opposite sex, but to prove that you are not gay. I hear the gay lobby cheering ... saying isn't that great, it will make it easier for gay kids, but I don't think it is having that desired effect. I actually wonder whether all this militant gay lobbying is actually making 'homophobia' worse and the reaction against gays even more militant.(particularly amongst young male adults) Adults are debating gay marriage, whilst young children are watching, listening and trying to understand. It is becoming necessary to describe to older children not only what normal sexual intercourse is, but how homosexual people 'have sex'. They have often heard anyway, but they are so saturated with talk about homosexuality at the moment, that the 'birds and bees' talk now has to include homosexual acts. (thanks to easy access to pornography, a lot of kids have actually seen images of things we would never have heard of.) I'm just saying this because I read these very adult discussions and I wonder if people see and hear what I see and hear: the impact and confusion on children. This debate seems to centre around adult rights. The reality is that adult rights can and do impact on the rights of others. In the case of this debate, I believe the rights of children - to be free to grow up and not be assailed by sexual discussions that are beyond them - are being trampled on and ignored.
Cathy Ransom | 11 March 2011

Not for me!
Harry G. | 11 March 2011

Dear Fr Brennan, I am sorry if you have commented on this before, but I have not seen it. How would you respond to the demand for the state to recognize and support polygamy? If it is about love, fidelity and commitment, why should the state withhold official recognition from polygamous relationships?
John Ryan | 11 March 2011

Good editorial in recent issue of the Tablet points out that what passes for marriage in secular society is far from the Catholic ideal of sacramental marriage which includes no divorce, openness to procreation and life long fidelity. Secular marriage, seems to mean serial monogamy for many people, adultery from time to time and childlessness by choice on occasions. This is not Catholic marriage. I would have said Christian but the Protestants allow divorce, abortion and the intention not to have children, which traditionally can invalidate a marriage according to canon law. Faithful monogamous gay couples must find this sickening. Civil marriage is the answer for both straight and gay people and add-on religious ceremonies for those who really believe in a Catholic or Jewish or Muslim or whatever marriage. The hypocrisy of politicians and journalists who have had several divorces and remarriages or indeed are cohabiting without marriage and then pontificate about how marriage rights cannot be granted to gay people is sickening.
Ann | 12 March 2011

This is the most balanced exposition of same-sex union that I have read.
Helen-Mary Langlands | 13 March 2011

I think the article title would be accurate as "on the fence with same-sex unions".

Frank you need to decide if you are speaking as a priest or as a secularist. You slip from Church teaching to democratic processes seamlessly and inappropriately. Just because the church (not just the Pope) considers homesexual acts a sin, does not prevent 'these persons' living freely in society.

The church accepts the rights of governments and its own right to articulate its doctrines and be persuasive in the public realm.
Andrew O'Brien | 14 March 2011

Thank you Cathy Ransom
Your words are painfully true.
Andrew O'Brien | 14 March 2011

In 2003, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith taught: “When legislation in favour of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic law-maker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it.”

I find preferable the approach of Archbishop Vincent Nichols, President of the UK Catholic Bishops Conference, who recently said, “We were very nuanced. We did not oppose gay civil partnerships. We recognised that in English law there might be a case for those.” I favour civil recognition of same sex partnerships and the maintenance of the present civil parameters of marriage.

Just last month, the UK’s High Court of Justice noted that “the Christian concept of marriage” is encapsulated in the common law as developed by the English judges and is summed up “in the famous definition of Lord Penzance (in 1866) in Hyde v Hyde and Woodmansee that marriage is ‘the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others’.”
Frank Brennan SJ | 14 March 2011

Many people opposed to same-sex issues seem to be angeded in a perverse form of voyeurism.

Every time there is a discussion on this issue, it starts as a legal discussion, then it moves to human rights, then religion, then back to natural law - but as sure as hell, the discussion will always end up as an inquiry into what people are doing with their genitals, and whether God will open the gates of heaven for them if they place the wrong body part in the wrong body part of the wrong gender.

Andrew O'Brien points out that homosexual acts are sinful. Does that mean a heterosexual couple who engage in non-procreational acts such as follatio, masturbation and anal intercourse, should have their marriages disqualifed by the Church?
DORIAN GRAY | 14 March 2011

nichols doesn't tolerate dissent from his doctrine Nichols has refused to criticise masses being held in the London parish of Soho, organised by way of special provision for a community of people of a same-sex orientation. In a direct response to protestors he said, "anybody who is trying to cast a judgement on the people who come forward for communion really ought to learn to hold their tongue".[wiki]
FATHER JOHN GEORGE | 15 March 2011

You will note I clearly referred to the rights of governments, not the obligations of members of parliament.

There is a difference in speaking against state recognition of same-sex unions and the right of secular societies to legislate for them.

Andrew O'Brien | 15 March 2011

re arch nichols soho gay masses 'the catholic herald' notes: "It is now clear beyond peradventure that those who attend the Masses are nearly all what the archdiocese calls “non-celibate gay people” who intend to continue to defy Catholic teaching, which is that homosexuals (Catechism art 2358) “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity”, but also that (2359) they “are called to chastity”."
FATHER JOHN GEORGE | 15 March 2011

Divorce rates[WIKI]

"A study on short-term same-sex marriages in Norway and Sweden found that divorce rates were higher in same-sex marriages than in opposite-sex marriages, and that unions of lesbians are considerably less stable, or more dynamic, than unions of gay men. Conversely, in the United Kingdom the divorce rate is a mere one percent for gays and is much lower in Denmark."
FATHER JOHN GEORGE | 16 March 2011

As I read this article I just thought of my daughter and her partner and my grandchildren. The grandchildren are a gift that I never expected, a gift from an unknown donor and modern technology. When I first knew my daughter was intending to have a child I struggled. Now though all doubts have gone as I see my grandchildren grow and thrive in a stable loving home. I believe my grandchildren in particular, born to loving parents in mainstream society have the right to have their parental union recognised and valued.

My grandchildren remind me that the healing answer Jesus brought was to know love and to love.
John D | 18 March 2011

Christian marriage was traditionally defined as between a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, and indissoluble. Two criteria no longer apply in a secular marriage. Why should the third apply? I agree with Fr Brennan and Ann. Civil law should recognise union between two adults - and does through the recognition of de facto relationships. Marriage in a Catholic context is different, and the church may have different requirements for a Catholic marriage.
Just my opinion | 21 March 2011

re "just my opinion":
The state is not subject to canon law but is subject [as all are] to natural moral law which opposes gay marriage.
FATHER JOHN GEORGE | 22 March 2011

furthermore re 'just my opinion'
"Natural law or the law of nature (Latin: lex naturalis) has been described as a law whose content is set by nature and that therefore is universal.[1] As classically used, natural law refers to the use of reason to analyze human nature and deduce binding rules of moral behavior. The phrase natural law is opposed to the positive law (meaning "man-made law", not "good law"; cf. posit) of a given political community, society, or nation-state, and thus can function as a standard by which to criticize that law.[2] In natural law jurisprudence, on the other hand, the content of positive law cannot be known without some reference to the natural law (or something like it).

Used in this way, natural law can be invoked to criticize decisions about the statutes, but less so to criticize the law itself. Some use natural law synonymously with natural justice or natural right (Latin ius naturale)"

FATHER JOHN GEORGE | 22 March 2011

GENEVA (Reuters) - People who criticise gay sexual relations for religious or moral reasons are increasingly being attacked and vilified for their views, a Vatican diplomat told the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday.
FATHER JOHN GEORGE | 23 March 2011

Cathy Ransom's pedagogy would rather preserve ignorance and the status quo than negotiate methods of protecting kids through information and guidelines that both Catholic and state schools assiduously employ to inform the decisions and actions of parents and teachers on the issues she raises. One aspect that appears not to concern her is the high degree of discrimination and bullying associated with perceptions of difference, including gendered difference, unless education programs address them. Where these are employed positive outcomes eventuate, while there is no evidence I know of changes in sexual orientation flowing from access to information. Suicide rate, especially in the teenage years, correlate closely with bullying, especially of gay students and there can be no reasonable case for cosseting ignorance for the sake of protecting an innocence that does violence. Equally, severe prohibitions attend burdening children with knowledge of gender complexity in the early years though, from experience and as a general rule, acceptance and love of neighbour cannot be contained to matters of race and middle-class morality simply because intelligent and questing children have a right to being answered honestly than subjected to the fears and prejudices of others. Some rights are plainly fictitious and others authentic.....
Michael Furtado | 08 April 2011

Thank God a Catholic priest has the sense and humanity to demand justice in this matter. State recognition of same-sex civil unions would be a step forward to social acceptance and rightful legal equality regarding children, joint possessions and inheritance, and even domestic violence. People should leave sex in the bedrooms and mind their own business.

Annabel | 08 April 2011

Last night’s discussion on same sex marriage on ABV TV Compass is now available for viewing at

Frank Brennan SJ | 11 July 2011

With the ALP conference about to debate this issue in the coming week, it is interesting to note this report in the latest Tablet:

THE BISHOPS of England and Wales believe civil partnerships successfully provide a legal protection for those in same-sex relationships, according to the Archbishop of Westminster, writes Christopher Lamb.
“We would want to emphasise that civil partnerships actually provide a structure in which people of the same sex who want a lifelong relationship [and] a lifelong partnership can find their place and protection and legal provision,” Archbishop Vincent Nichols said at a press conference after the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales’ meeting last week.
His comments mark the clearest support that a Catholic bishop has given in favour of civil unions.
Explaining the Church’s position on gay marriage, Archbishop Nichols said: “As a Church we are very committed to the notion of equality so that people are treated the same across all the activities of life ... The Church holds great store by the value of commitment in relation- ships and undertakings that people give. Stability in society depends upon the reliability of commitments that people give. That might be in offering to do a job but especially in their relationships with one another.
Equality and commitment are both very important and we fully support them.”
But the archbishop said that “equality and commitment do not amount to marriage” and that civil partnerships were “categorically different” from gay marriage, which the bishops oppose. He said he was “very disappointed” that the Government had decided to introduce gay marriage.
The bishops’ conference’s position on civil partnerships appears to have shifted from 2003 when it told the Government that civil unions would “not promote the common good and we therefore strongly oppose them”.

As far as I can see, my published remarks on the issue have been fully consistent with this position of the bishops of England and Wales.

frank Brennan SJ | 26 November 2011

Similar Articles

A spiritual reading of the Egyptian Revolution

  • Henri Boulad
  • 08 March 2011

It is an absurd confrontation. On one side, a man with empty hands; on the other, a well organised force equipped with batons, helmets and shields. I can still see the young man, like a lion, throw himself against the wall of shields, face tensed, eyes flashing, heart steeled.


Australian Catholics facing disaster

  • Paul Collins
  • 03 March 2011

The troubles facing Australian Catholicism have been documented in a new report. When people focus on this most think of sexual abuse. In fact this is more a symptom than the actual core of the problem.