Colorado will witness a historic moment today.
May 1 will mark the first day same-sex couples may legally enter civil unions in the state, a microcosm of a growing national and international shift in the understanding of what constitutes a marriage.
The Church has stood firm, drawing some ire and false accusations, in its opposition of such unions and in defense of traditional marriage between one man and one woman.
But what’s the basis for Church teaching and what’s really at stake?
First, the definition of marriage is not a religious question.
The answer comes from nature, said Father Giovanni Capucci, a canon lawyer with the Denver Archdiocese’s Metropolitan Tribunal, which deals with matters of marriage.
“Marriage for the Church is a natural institution; it is not a subjective reality,” he said.
Nature gave humans two mutually complementary sexes able to transmit life in what is recognized as a marriage. Christ sanctified marriage as a sacrament for the baptized to create a permanent relationship that goes beyond natural reality.
The state oversees marriage since it’s critical to families and to protect the common good. But neither invented marriage and neither can change its nature, he explained.
Before a relationship can be legally defi ned as marriage, it must meet some essential characteristics.
For a marriage to be a true union, it must be in indissoluable and unifying, meaning that it is a relationship based on mutual consent and total self-giving.
“Eternity is present in love otherwise it is not love,” he said. “I cannot say, ‘I love you for a month.’ You either love me or you don’t love me. Also, love implies unity. I cannot give myself to you totally and at the same time totally to another, for example.”
This sacrament must also have two purposes: to be open to life and for the good of the spouse, Capucci said.
But can’t same-sex couples share such a love?
No matter how deep the affection, it is physically impossible for two men or two women to consummate a marital union. Sexual relations between them are naturally different than between a manand woman.
“This is why the reality of marriage cannot happen between two people of the same sex,” Father Capucci said. “This reality of marriage cannot happen, because openness to life is based on sexual complementarity.”
Therefore, a proposal to deny this reality of marriage in civil law is an affront to human reason. The state’s civil union law asks citizens to pretend to accept a physical impossibility.
“In the moment in which laws begin to be detached from reality, what remains is only an idea,” he explained. “Once we enter into worlds of ideas, we can say anything we want.
We are just dealing with concepts that have no reference to reality.”
So what’s at stake?
Moral theologian Christian Brugger of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary said the Church is opposed to civil unions, not because same-sex partners are bad people, but because it’s an attempt to redefine marriage.
“It’s a threat to what marriage is,” he said. “The problem same-sex marriage raises is our understanding of marriage as an institution of comprehensive self-giving among two persons who share bodily complementarity. We drop the relevance of bodily complementarity and reduce the defi nition of marriage as a stable institution of two adult persons who share erotic complementarity.”
The states’ attempt to redefine marriage has the power to change the understanding of reality.
History has shown, Father Capucci said, when laws change fundamental issues like marriage, the mentality of society will slowly change.
“Somehow laws have the power to change our understanding and interpretation of reality. It happened with divorce, it happened with abortion, and that is why they are pressing so much to redefine marriage right now,” he said.
Such lies about the reality of marriage and human sexuality, lovingly given by God, will cause confusion for children and lead to unhappiness, he said.
“When we take God away from the source of human identity, then man is lost,” he said.