Kevin Hague

Catholic Bishops over-reach on marriage equality

by Kevin Hague

It’s not a surprise that the NZ Catholic Bishops have chosen to oppose Louisa Wall’s Bill for marriage equality. After all, they opposed Homosexual Law Reform, they opposed human rights protection on the grounds of sexual orientation and they opposed Civil Unions. I’m beginning to sense a theme.

The Catholic Bishops Pastoral Letter  is addressed to ‘Kiwis of Generation Y’ and is entitled “From the Beginning of Creation”. I won’t take apart the whole letter but believe it could charitably be described as confused. Essentially the Bishops assert that the Church should not be able to define marriage, but then proceed, as the Church, to tell not only Church-going Catholics but also (explicitly) the entirety of Generation Y what they should think about the issue and the Bill. They also assert that it is not for legislators to define marriage, saying instead that “civil law reflects and protects human nature”.

I respond by saying that there is overwhelming evidence that ‘human nature’ is, in fact, a very broad spectrum, which includes homosexual and bisexual orientation. 

The Bishops argue that it is, instead, tradition that should determine what the law says. Well, I accept that there is a relationship between the two, but a causal relationship is nonsensical. Consider, for example, some of the Catholic Church’s own traditions. Let’s take torturing and burning heretics as an example. Ought the law to provide for this? Of course not, because the tradition violated fundamental human rights, and because the social culture and values that sustained the tradition have changed.

Overall, twice as many New Zealanders support this change as oppose it. But for Generation Y, to whom the Bishops’ letter was addressed, four times as many support as oppose it.

Yesterday a conservative wing of the Presbyterian Church also came out in opposition to the Bill, and I’m sure other churches will have members who oppose it, although I have no evidence that the proportion of Christians who oppose the Bill is any larger than in society generally, where scientific public opinion surveys show it to be around 30%.

A significant group of Church leaders who support the Bill were so concerned by the letter from the Catholic Bishops that they published their own letter in response.

For me the Bishops’ position wasn’t a surprise – after all, notwithstanding the extraordinary sexual diversity of the natural world – their Boss in Rome believes homosexual acts to be “intrinsically disordered”. Even though the Church also apparently believes that:

“Every sign of unjust discrimination in their [homosexual persons] regard should be avoided,” (2258 in the official Catechism of the Catholic Church)

the New Zealand Bishops have nonetheless opposed every initiative proposed to reduce or eliminate discrimination. How refreshing it would have been if the Bishops had, instead, said “marriage is both a civil contract and, in the eyes of the church, a sacrament. It is our constant belief that the latter has to be between a man and a woman since the validity of sacramental marriage has to be established by consummation. However, over the years theidea of marriage as a civil contract has developed in many ways (the easy availability of divorce for example). Any opposition to gay marriage, therefore, should be debated on its civil merits without regard to the Church’s religious position which will not be directly affected: is it necessary for justice to all? Is it in any way damaging to the civil contract? We have in the past made clear that while the church disapproves of homosexuality, the individual homosexual must not be discriminated against in any way.”

They say a picture says a thousand words. I don’t believe any number of words I could write would respond to the Bishops better than this video. Love is love.

Published in Environment & Resource Management | Justice & Democracy | Parliament | Society & Culture by Kevin Hague on Thu, August 23rd, 2012   

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