WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Administrative Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called for a constitutional amendment to protect the unique social and legal status of marriage.
In Catholic belief, "marriage is a faithful, exclusive and lifelong union between one man and one woman, joined as husband and wife in an intimate partnership of life and love," the 47-bishop committee said in a statement released Sept. 10.
"What are called 'homosexual unions,' because they do not express full human complementarity and because they are inherently nonprocreative, cannot be given the status of marriage," the committee said.
It warned that "the importance of marriage for children and for society" is under attack in U.S. courts and legislatures and in popular culture and entertainment media, which "often undermine or ignore the essential role of marriage and promote equivalence between marriage and homosexual relationships."
The Administrative Committee -- composed of the USCCB's executive officers, elected committee chairmen and elected regional representatives -- is the highest policy and decision-making body of the bishops apart from the entire body when it meets twice a year in general assembly.
The committee, which met in Washington, did not specify language for a federal marriage amendment.
Rather, it committed the bishops to promoting the "essential role of marriage ... in our teaching and preaching, but also in our public policy advocacy at the state and national levels and in the important dialogue about how best to protect marriage and the common good in the U.S. Constitution and in our society as a whole."
"We offer general support for a federal marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution as we continue to work to protect marriage in state legislatures, the courts, the Congress and other appropriate forums," it said.
In May, a proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as "the union of a man and a woman" was introduced in Congress.
The bishops cited a recent Vatican document that called legal recognition of same-sex unions "gravely unjust."
Citing marriage's unique societal role in the procreation and raising of children, the Vatican said, "The denial of the social and legal status of marriage to forms of cohabitation that are not and cannot be marital is not opposed to justice; on the contrary, justice requires it."
The Administrative Committee said the church clearly teaches the dignity of homosexual persons and condemns "all forms of unjust discrimination, harassment or abuse."
The bishops said their defense of marriage focuses "on the importance of marriage, not on homosexuality or other matters."
The growing U.S. debate over granting marriage rights or equivalent legal status to same-sex unions is part of a contemporary cultural phenomenon across the Western world.
In the United States there have been a number of court and legislative battles over the question of legal benefits for same-sex unions since 1993, when the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the state could not exclude same-sex couples from marriage unless it could show compelling state interests and prove that its marriage laws were narrowly tailored to those interests.
That led to legislation in Hawaii granting domestic partnership benefits to same-sex couples.
Vermont adopted similar legislation in 2000 following a similar court ruling there, and a case currently before the Massachusetts Supreme Court challenges that state's marriage laws.
In the wake of the Hawaii court decision a number of other states amended their marriage laws to ban or strengthen existing bans on same-sex "marriage," but provision of equivalent benefits and protections to same-sex partnerships has increased on a number of fronts, including companies and some local governments deciding to provide spousal benefits to same-sex partners of employees.
Canada's federal government has been struggling since July to create new laws implementing a Canadian Supreme Court decision that the traditional definition of marriage violates the equality provision of that nation's constitution.
Responding to a legislative proposal to redefine marriage as "the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others," the bishops of Canada Sept. 10 urged people to oppose "a redefinition of marriage that includes same-sex partners."
When the Dutch Parliament voted to recognize same-sex unions as marriages in 2000, Pope John Paul II denounced the decision.
Calling marriage between a man and a woman a fundamental part of human reality and the basic unit of society, the pope said, "No other form of relationship between persons can be considered as an equivalent to this natural relationship between a man and a woman out of whose love children are born."
In 1996 the heads of two bishops' committees -- domestic policy and marriage and family -- issued a joint statement firmly opposing any "attempts to grant the legal status of marriage to a relationship between persons of the same sex."
The following year the bishops' conference sent all bishops a 77-page
resource paper addressing the pastoral, legal, social and theological
issues posed in the debate over treating same-sex unions the same as
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