TO GIVE LEGAL RECOGNITION
BETWEEN HOMOSEXUAL PERSONS
1. In recent years, various questions relating to
homosexuality have been addressed with some frequency by Pope John Paul
II and by the relevant Dicasteries of the Holy See.1
Homosexuality is a troubling moral and social phenomenon, even in those
countries where it does not present significant legal issues. It gives
rise to greater concern in those countries that have granted — or intend
to grant — legal recognition to homosexual unions, which may include the
possibility of adopting children. The present Considerations do not
contain new doctrinal elements; they seek rather to reiterate the
essential points on this question and provide arguments drawn from
reason which could be used by Bishops in preparing more specific
interventions, appropriate to the different situations throughout the
world, aimed at protecting and promoting the dignity of marriage, the
foundation of the family, and the stability of society, of which this
institution is a constitutive element. The present Considerations are
also intended to give direction to Catholic politicians by indicating
the approaches to proposed legislation in this area which would be
consistent with Christian conscience.2 Since this question
relates to the natural moral law, the arguments that follow are
addressed not only to those who believe in Christ, but to all persons
committed to promoting and defending the common good of society.
I. THE NATURE OF MARRIAGE
AND ITS INALIENABLE CHARACTERISTICS
2. The Church's teaching on marriage and on the
complementarity of the sexes reiterates a truth that is evident to right
reason and recognized as such by all the major cultures of the world.
Marriage is not just any relationship between human beings. It was
established by the Creator with its own nature, essential properties and
purpose.3 No ideology can erase from the human spirit the
certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman, who by
mutual personal gift, proper and exclusive to themselves, tend toward
the communion of their persons. In this way, they mutually perfect each
other, in order to cooperate with God in the procreation and upbringing
of new human lives.
3. The natural truth about marriage was confirmed by
the Revelation contained in the biblical accounts of creation, an
expression also of the original human wisdom, in which the voice of
nature itself is heard. There are three fundamental elements of the
Creator's plan for marriage, as narrated in the Book of Genesis.
In the first place, man, the image of God, was
created "male and female" (Gen 1:27). Men and women are
equal as persons and complementary as male and female. Sexuality is
something that pertains to the physical-biological realm and has also
been raised to a new level — the personal level — where nature and
spirit are united.
Marriage is instituted by the Creator as a form of
life in which a communion of persons is realized involving the use of
the sexual faculty. "That is why a man leaves his father and mother
and clings to his wife and they become one flesh" (Gen 2:24).
Third, God has willed to give the union of man and
woman a special participation in his work of creation. Thus, he blessed
the man and the woman with the words "Be fruitful and
multiply" (Gen 1:28). Therefore, in the Creator's plan,
sexual complementarity and fruitfulness belong to the very nature of
Furthermore, the marital union of man and woman has
been elevated by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament. The Church
teaches that Christian marriage is an efficacious sign of the covenant
between Christ and the Church (cf. Eph 5:32). This Christian
meaning of marriage, far from diminishing the profoundly human value of
the marital union between man and woman, confirms and strengthens it
(cf. Mt 19:3-12; Mk 10:6-9).
4. There are absolutely no grounds for considering
homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to
God's plan for marriage and family. Marriage is holy, while homosexual
acts go against the natural moral law. Homosexual acts "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
Sacred Scripture condemns homosexual acts "as a
serious depravity... (cf. Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 6:10; 1
Tim 1:10). This judgment of Scripture does not of course permit us
to conclude that all those who suffer from this anomaly are personally
responsible for it, but it does attest to the fact that homosexual acts
are intrinsically disordered".5 This same moral judgment
is found in many Christian writers of the first centuries6
and is unanimously accepted by Catholic Tradition.
Nonetheless, according to the teaching of the Church,
men and women with homosexual tendencies "must be accepted with
respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination
in their regard should be avoided".7 They are called,
like other Christians, to live the virtue of chastity.8 The
homosexual inclination is however "objectively disordered"9
and homosexual practices are "sins gravely contrary to
II. POSITIONS ON THE PROBLEM
OF HOMOSEXUAL UNIONS
5. Faced with the fact of homosexual unions, civil
authorities adopt different positions. At times they simply tolerate the
phenomenon; at other times they advocate legal recognition of such
unions, under the pretext of avoiding, with regard to certain rights,
discrimination against persons who live with someone of the same sex. In
other cases, they favour giving homosexual unions legal equivalence to
marriage properly so-called, along with the legal possibility of
Where the government's policy is de facto
tolerance and there is no explicit legal recognition of homosexual
unions, it is necessary to distinguish carefully the various aspects of
the problem. Moral conscience requires that, in every occasion,
Christians give witness to the whole moral truth, which is contradicted
both by approval of homosexual acts and unjust discrimination against
homosexual persons. Therefore, discreet and prudent actions can be
effective; these might involve: unmasking the way in which such
tolerance might be exploited or used in the service of ideology; stating
clearly the immoral nature of these unions; reminding the government of
the need to contain the phenomenon within certain limits so as to
safeguard public morality and, above all, to avoid exposing young people
to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage that would deprive them
of their necessary defences and contribute to the spread of the
phenomenon. Those who would move from tolerance to the legitimization of
specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded
that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different
from the toleration of evil.
In those situations where homosexual unions have been
legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights
belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must
refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or
application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from
material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area,
everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.
III. ARGUMENTS FROM REASON AGAINST LEGAL
RECOGNITION OF HOMOSEXUAL UNIONS
6. To understand why it is necessary to oppose legal
recognition of homosexual unions, ethical considerations of different
orders need to be taken into consideration.
From the order of right reason
The scope of the civil law is certainly more limited
than that of the moral law,11 but civil law cannot contradict
right reason without losing its binding force on conscience.12
Every humanly-created law is legitimate insofar as it is consistent with
the natural moral law, recognized by right reason, and insofar as it
respects the inalienable rights of every person.13 Laws in
favour of homosexual unions are contrary to right reason because they
confer legal guarantees, analogous to those granted to marriage, to
unions between persons of the same sex. Given the values at stake in
this question, the State could not grant legal standing to such unions
without failing in its duty to promote and defend marriage as an
institution essential to the common good.
It might be asked how a law can be contrary to the
common good if it does not impose any particular kind of
simply gives legal recognition to a de facto reality which does
not seem to cause injustice to anyone. In this area, one needs first to
reflect on the difference between homosexual behaviour as a private
phenomenon and the same behaviour as a relationship in society, foreseen
and approved by the law, to the point where it becomes one of the
institutions in the legal structure. This second phenomenon is not only
more serious, but also assumes a more wide-reaching and profound
influence, and would result in changes to the entire organization of
society, contrary to the common good. Civil laws are structuring
principles of man's life in society, for good or for ill. They
"play a very important and sometimes decisive role in influencing
patterns of thought and behaviour".14 Lifestyles and the
underlying presuppositions these express not only externally shape the
life of society, but also tend to modify the younger generation's
perception and evaluation of forms of behaviour. Legal recognition of
homosexual unions would obscure certain basic moral values and cause a
devaluation of the institution of marriage.
From the biological and anthropological order
7. Homosexual unions are totally lacking in the
biological and anthropological elements of marriage and family which
would be the basis, on the level of reason, for granting them legal
recognition. Such unions are not able to contribute in a proper way to
the procreation and survival of the human race. The possibility of using
recently discovered methods of artificial reproduction, beyond involving a grave lack of respect for human dignity,15 does nothing
to alter this inadequacy.
Homosexual unions are also totally lacking in the
conjugal dimension, which represents the human and ordered form of
sexuality. Sexual relations are human when and insofar as they express
and promote the mutual assistance of the sexes in marriage and are open
to the transmission of new life.
As experience has shown, the absence of sexual
complementarity in these unions creates obstacles in the normal
development of children who would be placed in the care of such persons.
They would be deprived of the experience of either fatherhood or
motherhood. Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such
unions would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the
sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in
an environment that is not conducive to their full human development.
This is gravely immoral and in open contradiction to the principle,
recognized also in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the
Child, that the best interests of the child, as the weaker and more
vulnerable party, are to be the paramount consideration in every case.
From the social order
8. Society owes its continued survival to the family,
founded on marriage. The inevitable consequence of legal recognition of
homosexual unions would be the redefinition of marriage, which would
become, in its legal status, an institution devoid of essential
reference to factors linked to heterosexuality; for example, procreation
and raising children. If, from the legal standpoint, marriage between a
man and a woman were to be considered just one possible form of
marriage, the concept of marriage would undergo a radical
transformation, with grave detriment to the common good. By putting
homosexual unions on a legal plane analogous to that of marriage and the
family, the State acts arbitrarily and in contradiction with its duties.
The principles of respect and non-discrimination
cannot be invoked to support legal recognition of homosexual unions.
Differentiating between persons or refusing social recognition or
benefits is unacceptable only when it is contrary to justice.16
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.
Nor can the principle of the proper autonomy of the
individual be reasonably invoked. It is one thing to maintain that
individual citizens may freely engage in those activities that interest
them and that this falls within the common civil right to freedom; it is
something quite different to hold that activities which do not represent
a significant or positive contribution to the development of the human
person in society can receive specific and categorical legal recognition
by the State. Not even in a remote analogous sense do homosexual unions
fulfil the purpose for which marriage and family deserve specific
categorical recognition. On the contrary, there are good reasons for
holding that such unions are harmful to the proper development of human
society, especially if their impact on society were to increase.
From the legal order
9. Because married couples ensure the succession of
generations and are therefore eminently within the public interest,
civil law grants them institutional recognition. Homosexual unions, on
the other hand, do not need specific attention from the legal standpoint
since they do not exercise this function for the common good.
Nor is the argument valid according to which legal
recognition of homosexual unions is necessary to avoid situations in
which cohabiting homosexual persons, simply because they live together,
might be deprived of real recognition of their rights as persons and
citizens. In reality, they can always make use of the provisions of law
all citizens from the standpoint of their private autonomy — to protect
their rights in matters of common interest. It would be gravely unjust
to sacrifice the common good and just laws on the family in order to
protect personal goods that can and must be guaranteed in ways that do
not harm the body of society.17
IV. POSITIONS OF CATHOLIC POLITICIANS
WITH REGARD TO LEGISLATION IN FAVOUR
OF HOMOSEXUAL UNIONS
10. If it is true that all Catholics are obliged to
oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions, Catholic politicians
are obliged to do so in a particular way, in keeping with their
responsibility as politicians. Faced with legislative proposals in
favour of homosexual unions, Catholic politicians are to take account of
the following ethical indications.
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. To vote in
favour of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral.
When legislation in favour of the recognition of
homosexual unions is already in force, the Catholic politician must
oppose it in the ways that are possible for him and make his opposition
known; it is his duty to witness to the truth. If it is not possible to
repeal such a law completely, the Catholic politician, recalling the
indications contained in the Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae,
"could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by
such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of
general opinion and public morality", on condition that his
"absolute personal opposition" to such laws was clear and well
known and that the danger of scandal was avoided.18 This does
not mean that a more restrictive law in this area could be considered
just or even acceptable; rather, it is a question of the legitimate and
dutiful attempt to obtain at least the partial repeal of an unjust law
when its total abrogation is not possible at the moment.
11. The Church teaches that respect for homosexual
persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to
legal recognition of homosexual unions. The common good requires that
laws recognize, promote and protect marriage as the basis of the family,
the primary unit of society. Legal recognition of homosexual unions or
placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the
approval of deviant behaviour, with the consequence of making it a model
in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong
to the common inheritance of humanity. The Church cannot fail to defend
these values, for the good of men and women and for the good of society
The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, in the Audience
of March 28, 2003, approved the present Considerations, adopted in the
Ordinary Session of this Congregation, and ordered their publication.
Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith, June 3, 2003, Memorial of Saint Charles Lwanga
and his Companions, Martyrs.
Joseph Card. Ratzinger
Angelo Amato, S.D.B.
Titular Archbishop of Sila
1Cf. John Paul II, Angelus Messages of
February 20, 1994, and of June 19, 1994; Address to the Plenary
Meeting of the Pontifical Council for the Family (March 24, 1999);
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 2357-2359, 2396; Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Persona humana
(December 29, 1975), 8; Letter on the pastoral care of homosexual
persons (October 1, 1986); Some considerations concerning the
response to legislative proposals on the non-discrimination of
homosexual persons (July 24, 1992); Pontifical Council for the
Family, Letter to the Presidents of the Bishops' Conferences of
Europe on the resolution of the European Parliament regarding homosexual
couples (March 25, 1994); Family, marriage and "de
facto" unions (July 26, 2000), 23.
2Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation
of Catholics in political life (November 24, 2002), 4.
3Cf. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral
Constitution Gaudium et spes, 48.
4Catechism of the Catholic Church, No.
5Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
Declaration Persona humana (December 29, 1975), 8.
6Cf., for example, St. Polycarp, Letter to
the Philippians, V, 3; St. Justin Martyr, First Apology, 27,
1-4; Athenagoras, Supplication for the Christians, 34.
7Catechism of the Catholic Church, No.
2358; cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter on the
pastoral care of homosexual persons (October 1, 1986), 10.
8Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, No.
2359; cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter on the
pastoral care of homosexual persons (October 1, 1986), 12.
9Catechism of the Catholic Church, No.
10Ibid., No. 2396.
11Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter
Evangelium vitae (March 25, 1995), 71.
12Cf. ibid., 72.
13Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae,
I-II, q. 95, a. 2.
14John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium
vitae (March 25, 1995), 90.
15Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, Instruction Donum vitae (February 22, 1987), II. A. 1-3.
16Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae,
II-II, q. 63, a.1, c.
17It should not be forgotten that there is
always "a danger that legislation which would make homosexuality a
basis for entitlements could actually encourage a person with a
homosexual orientation to declare his homosexuality or even to seek a
partner in order to exploit the provisions of the law"
(Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Some considerations
concerning the response to legislative proposals on the
non-discrimination of homosexual persons [July 24, 1992], 14).
18John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium
vitae (March 25, 1995), 73.