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HomePerspectiveArchbishop AquilaMake no mistake: civil unions a major step in radically redefining marriage

Make no mistake: civil unions a major step in radically redefining marriage

This week, the Colorado State Senate will begin hearings on this year’s civil union legislation.  The Colorado Civil Unions Act, SB 11, continues the debate Colorado undertook last summer regarding the definitions of family and marriage.

Make no mistake, the Colorado Civil Unions Act, and all civil union legislation, is an attempt to redefine marriage—to undercut the long-standing human understanding that the stable, fruitful partnerships between men and women should be promoted and protected.  In every state where civil union legislation has passed, its proponents have pushed to redefine marriage itself.

The fact is that we need to protect marriage.  We need men and women who commit to raising children in stable relationships.  Marriages form families, and families form the basis of our communities, and our nation.  Marriage forms healthy children, who build healthy communities.

Civil union legislation is a major step in the radical redefinition of marriage, family and community.  It is important and fair to recognize that the social redefinition began with the sexual revolution, and the rejection of the idea that children were a part of the purpose of marriage.  Before that, even, the romantic idea that marriage is a kind of self-defined personal fulfillment radically crippled any hope for a reasoned understanding of marriage.

Our contemporary notion of marriage divorces the procreative aspects of sexuality from the unity of sexual partnership. This separation opens the door for the social support and endorsement of any type of sexual behavior—whether solitary, same-sex, adulterous, polygamous, promiscuous, or in any other way one might imagine the sexual act.  We need only look at widespread use and normalization of pornography and the use of sexual innuendo in advertising to see that the sexual act has become mere recreation—and for most, recreation without meaning.

Marriage can be deeply fulfilling.  But that isn’t a good reason to legally protect it.  Our civil interest in protecting and promoting marriage comes from our need to maintain stable families, where children can benefit from one mother and one father.  All children deserve that chance.

Proponents of civil unions argue that their interest is not in redefining family life.  They say they want to ensure that their legal rights are protected.  But in Colorado, there are no clear legal benefits same-sex couples can’t achieve without civil unions.  The real goal of civil union legislation is social endorsement of same-sex unions, and, soon enough, the redefinition of marriage.

A poll from USA Today recently indicated that 53 percent of Americans support a legal redefinition of marriage that includes same-sex couples.  The biggest reason for support is the notion of “equality.”  Same-sex marriage proponents argue that redefining marriage is a requirement to establish social equality.  But marriage—the committed relationship of mothers and fathers raising children—deserves more than equal protection.  Mothers and fathers raising children together deserve special recognition, and special assistance, because their role is essential for a strong society.  From a legal standpoint, marriage is that special recognition.

Of course, marriage is more than just legal endorsement of a vital social relationship.  Marriage is established by natural law—the union of man and woman, as the cornerstone of family, is written on our hearts.  If we abandon the natural law, we simply can’t predict the consequences our culture will face.  Marriage recognizes the complementarity of male and female, and the gift of procreation in their nuptial union.

Among the ironies of civil union legislation is that, for all its talk of equality, the Colorado Civil Unions Act infringes on the rights of others.  The law will require social service agencies—including Catholic Charities—to partner with same-sex couples for adoption and foster care.  The partnership between foster or adoptive parents and their agencies is forged through mutual trust and common purpose.  But the Colorado Civil Unions Act will force some agencies to work with families who don’t share goals.  Catholic Charities works to find homes with a mother and father for children.  The Colorado Civil Unions Act will hinder that work.  Unless a substantial religious liberty exemption is added to the bill, foster care and adoptive services in Colorado will be a casualty of “equality.”  Without a religious liberty exemption, Catholic Charities, and many other institutions, will be hindered in their adoption work—impeded from helping children find homes.

Marriage, defined in natural law and long protected, is for something—the creation of families.  Family is vital to stable social order.  In the name of equality, and “personal fulfillment,” the state of Colorado is sadly preparing to abandon that stability, and to sacrifice children in need in the process.  I pray that we will be able to endure what may happen next.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).
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