The U.S. Bishops'
Questions and Answers About Marriage
and Same-Sex Unions
In November 2003, the U.S. bishops approved
a restatement of long-held Catholic beliefs about marriage. The statement is
a response to a growing movement in U.S. society to recognize homosexual unions
as legal, married unions. Within a month of the bishops' meeting, for example,
the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that same-sex unions can be equated
with marriage. The U.S. bishops' statement, while it upholds marriage, does
not condemn homosexual people. It points out, rather, the ancient and sacred
character of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
In the news conference releasing the document, Bishop Kevin J. Boland
of Savannah, head of the bishops' Committee on Marriage and Family
Life, pointed out the reasons for the document. First and foremost,
the bishops realize that we are in a social debate about marriage,
he said, an area about which the Church has a "core belief." The
statement is meant to "draw upon reason and faith in order to identify
the nature and purposes of marriage and thereby to demonstrate why
a same-sex union can never be equated with marriage." That said,
the statement does not attempt to be a "detailed theological treatise,
public policy statement or legal argument." In fact, said Bishop
Boland, "It does not even present a complete catechesis on marriage
or homosexuality." In short, the bishops' statement is an attempt
to introduce some key Church themes into this debate in a way that
everyday people can understand. The full text of the U.S. bishops'
Full Text of the Bishops' Statement
A growing movement today
favors making those relationships commonly called same-sex unions the legal
equivalent of marriage. This situation challenges Catholics—and all who seek the truth—to
think deeply about the meaning of marriage, its purposes, and its value
to individuals, families, and society. This kind of reflection, using reason and
faith, is an appropriate starting point and framework for the current debate.
We, the Catholic bishops of the United
States, offer here some basic truths to assist people in understanding Catholic
teaching about marriage and to enable them to promote marriage and its sacredness.
1. What is marriage?
Marriage, as instituted by God, is a faithful, exclusive, lifelong union of a man and a woman
joined in an intimate community of life and love. They commit themselves completely
to each other and to the wondrous responsibility of bringing children into the
world and caring for them. The call to marriage is woven deeply into the human
spirit. Man and woman are equal. However, as created, they are different from
but made for each other. This complementarity, including sexual difference,
draws them together in a mutually loving union that should be always open to
the procreation of children (see Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC],
These truths about marriage are present in the order of nature and can be perceived by the
light of human reason. They have been confirmed by divine Revelation in Sacred
2. What does our faith tell us about marriage?
Marriage comes from the loving hand of God, who fashioned both male and female in the divine
image (see Gn 1:27). —A man "leaves his father and mother and clings to his
wife, and the two of them become one body" (Gn 2:24). The man recognizes the
woman as "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Gn 2:23). God blesses the
man and woman and commands them to "be fertile and multiply" (Gn 1:28). Jesus reiterates these teachings from
Genesis, saying, "But from the beginning of creation, —God made them male and
female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother [and be joined
to his wife], and the two shall become one flesh'" (Mk 10:6-8).
These biblical passages help us to appreciate God's plan for marriage.
It is an intimate union in which the spouses give themselves,
as equal persons, completely and lovingly to one another. By their mutual gift of self, they cooperate
with God in bringing children to life and in caring for them.
Marriage is both a natural institution and a sacred union because
it is rooted in the divine plan for creation. In addition, the Church teaches
that the valid marriage of baptized Christians is a sacrament—a saving reality.
Jesus Christ made marriage a symbol of his love for his Church (see Eph 5:25-33). This means that a sacramental marriage
lets the world see, in human terms, something of the faithful, creative, abundant,
and self-emptying love of Christ. A true marriage in the Lord with his grace
will bring the spouses to holiness. Their love, manifested in fidelity, passion,
fertility, generosity, sacrifice, forgiveness, and healing, makes known God's love in their family, communities, and
society. This Christian meaning confirms and strengthens the human value of
a marital union (see CCC, nos. 1612-1617; 1641-1642).
3. Why can marriage exist only between a man and a woman?
The natural structure of human sexuality makes man and woman complementary partners for the transmission of human life. Only a union of male and female can express the sexual complementarity willed by God for marriage. The
permanent and exclusive commitment of marriage is the necessary context for
the expression of sexual love intended by God both to serve the transmission
of human life and to build up the bond between husband and wife (see CCC,
In marriage, husband and wife give themselves totally to each other
in their masculinity and femininity (see CCC, no. 1643). They are equal
as human beings but different as man and woman, fulfilling each other through
this natural difference. This unique complementarity makes possible the conjugal bond that is the core of marriage.
4. Why is a same-sex union not equivalent
to a marriage?
For several reasons a same-sex union contradicts the nature
of marriage: It is not based on the natural complementarity of male and female;
it cannot cooperate with God to create new life; and the natural purpose of sexual union cannot be achieved by a
same-sex union. Persons in same-sex unions cannot enter into a true conjugal
union. Therefore, it is wrong to equate their relationship to a marriage.
5. Why is it so important to society that marriage be preserved
as the exclusive union of a man and a woman?
Across times, cultures, and very different religious beliefs, marriage is the foundation of the family. The family, in turn, is the
basic unit of society. Thus, marriage is a personal relationship with public
Marriage is the fundamental pattern for male-female relationships.
It contributes to society because it models the way in which women
and men live interdependently and commit, for the whole of life,
to seek the good of each other.
The marital union also provides the best conditions for raising
children: namely, the stable, loving relationship of a mother and father present only in marriage. The state
rightly recognizes this relationship as a public institution in its laws because
the relationship makes a unique and essential contribution to the common good.
Laws play an educational role insofar as they shape patterns of thought and behavior,
particularly about what is socially permissible and acceptable. In effect, giving same-sex unions the legal status of marriage
would grant official public approval to homosexual activity and would
treat it as if it were morally neutral.
When marriage is redefined so as to make other relationships equivalent
to it, the institution of marriage is devalued and further weakened. The weakening
of this basic institution at all levels and by various forces has already exacted
too high a social cost.
6. Does denying marriage to homosexual persons demonstrate unjust
discrimination and a lack of respect for them as persons?
It is not unjust to deny legal status to same-sex unions
because marriage and same-sex unions are essentially different realities. In
fact, justice requires society to do so.
To uphold God's intent for marriage, in which sexual relations have
their proper and exclusive place, is not to offend the dignity
of homosexual persons. Christians must give witness to the whole moral truth and
oppose as immoral both homosexual acts and unjust discrimination against homosexual
The Catechism of the Catholic Church urges that homosexual
persons "be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity" (no. 2358).
It also encourages chaste friendships. "Chastity is expressed notably in friendship
with one's neighbor. Whether it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great
good for all" (no. 2347).
7. Should persons who live in same-sex relationships be entitled
to some of the same social and economic benefits given to married
The state has an obligation to promote the family, which is rooted in marriage. Therefore, it can
justly give married couples rights and benefits it does not extend to others.
Ultimately, the stability and flourishing of society is dependent on the stability and flourishing of healthy family life.
The legal recognition of marriage, including the benefits associated
with it, is not only about personal commitment, but also about the social commitment
that husband and wife make to the well-being of society. It would be wrong to
redefine marriage for the sake of providing benefits to those who cannot rightfully enter into marriage.
Some benefits currently sought by persons in homosexual unions can
already be obtained without regard to marital status. For example, individuals
can agree to own property jointly with another, and they can generally designate
anyone they choose to be a beneficiary of their will or to make health-care
decisions in case they become incompetent.
8. In light of the Church's teaching about the truth and beauty
of marriage, what should Catholics do?
There is to be no separation between one's faith and life
in either public or private realms. All Catholics should act on their beliefs
with a well-formed conscience based on Sacred Scripture and Tradition. They
should be a community of conscience within society. By their voice and their
vote, they should contribute to society's welfare and test its public life by
the standards of right reason and Gospel truth. Responsible
citizenship is a virtue. Participation in the political process is a moral obligation. This is particularly urgent in light
of the need to defend marriage and to oppose the legalization of same-sex unions as marriages.
Married couples themselves, by the witness of their faithful, life-giving
love, are the best advocates for marriage. By their example, they are the first
teachers of the next generation about the dignity of marriage and the need to
uphold it. As leaders of their family—which the Second Vatican Council called
a "domestic church" (Lumen Gentium, no. 11)—couples should bring their gifts as well as their needs
to the larger Church. There, with the help of other couples and their pastors
and collaborators, they can strengthen their commitment and sustain their sacrament
over a lifetime.
Marriage is a basic human and
social institution. Though it is regulated by civil laws and church laws, it did not originate from either the church or state, but from God. Therefore, neither church
nor state can alter the basic meaning and structure of marriage.
Marriage, whose nature and purposes are established by God, can
only be the union of a man and a woman and must remain such in law. In a manner
unlike any other relationship, marriage makes a unique and irreplaceable contribution
to the common good of society, especially through the procreation and education
The union of husband and wife becomes, over a lifetime, a great
good for themselves, their family, communities, and society. Marriage
is a gift to be cherished and protected.
Second Vatican Council. Pastoral Constitution
on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes),
nos. 47-52. December 1965. Available online at www.vatican.va.
of the Catholic Church, nos. 369-373, nos. 1601-1666,
and nos. 2331-2400. Washington, DC: United States Conference
of Catholic Bishops—Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000.
Pope John Paul II. On the Family (Familiaris
Consortio). Washington, DC: United States Conference
of Catholic Bishops, 1982.
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition
to Unions Between Homosexual Persons. July 2003. Available
online at www.vatican.va.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
the Way of Love: A Pastoral Message of the U.S. Catholic
Bishops to Families. Washington, DC: United States
Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1993. Available in condensed
form as Catholic
Update (C1094) from St. Anthony Messenger Press
or visit www.AmericanCatholic.org.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility.
Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic
Bishops, 2003. Available in condensed form as Catholic
Update beginning in mid-March 2004 (C0404) from St.
Anthony Messenger Press or visit www.AmericanCatholic.org.
Between Man and Woman: Questions and Answers About
Marriage and Same-Sex Unions was developed by the Committee on
Marriage and Family Life of the United States Conference of Catholic
Bishops (USCCB). It was approved for publication by the full body
of bishops at their November 2003 General Meeting.
This document is from Between Man and Woman: Questions and Answers About Marriage and Same-Sex Unions, copyright 2003, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Provided by Catholic News Service. Used with permission.
NEXT: Faithful Citizenship—the
U.S. Bishops' document on political responsibility in condensed form