The Meaning of Marriage: Marriage is a unique relationship different from all others
A Pastoral Statement of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference
Married love is a unique form of love between a man and woman which has a special benefit for the whole of society. ( ) The Catholic Church, with other Christians and those of no particular religious view, regard the family based on marriage between a woman and a man as the single most important institution in any society. To seek to re-define the nature of marriage would be to undermine it as the fundamental building block of our society. The Church seeks with others to reaffirm the rational basis for holding that marriage should be reserved for the unique and complementary relationship between a woman and a man from which the generation and upbringing of children is uniquely possible. This understanding of marriage is deeply rooted in all cultures: it is not intended to exclude or disadvantage anyone.
The debate at the core of the call for ‘same sex marriage’ is not about equality or about the separation of a religious view of marriage from a civil view of marriage. It is about the very nature of marriage itself and the importance society places on the role of mothers and fathers in bringing up children. With others, the Catholic Church will continue to hold that the differences between a man and woman are not accidental to marriage but fundamental to it and children have a natural right to a mother and a father and that this is the best environment for them where possible. It is therefore deserving of special recognition and promotion by the State.
Marriage is not merely a private institution. The well-being of the family and its place in society is not simply a matter for the husband and wife but for society as a whole. It is given special recognition by society because it is the place where children learn what it means to be members of their family and of society.
The Constitution of Ireland regards the family ‘as the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State’ (Art. 41.1.2°). ‘The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded, and to protect it against attack (Art. 41.3.1°). Any attempt to change this protection would be a radical change in the meaning of marriage – the ‘foundation stone’ of society – in the document that expresses the foundational values of the Irish State.
We recognise that couples today face many challenges to building and sustaining a strong marriage. ( ) A major challenge arises from any proposal which seeks to redefine the meaning and purpose of marriage on which the family is founded, changing the definition of marriage by enabling the relationship of a same sex couple to also become a marriage. To do this would mean that marriage, under civil law, would no longer be the committed gift of a man and a woman in a relationship ‘until death do us part’, in the kind of union which can bear fruit in new human lives.
Marriage means the union of a man and woman. A husband is a man who has a wife; a wife is a woman who has a husband. A same sex couple cannot be husband and wife. A same sex couple cannot procreate a child through the sexual act which expresses married love.
Often those who call for legal recognition of same sex marriage see it as a matter of fairness, equality and civil rights. The Church holds that basic human rights must be afforded to all people. This can and should be done without sacrificing the institution of marriage and family and the fundamental role they play in society. This is not about denying civil rights but protecting and upholding the meaning of marriage.