Can a Catholic Recognize the “Rights of Gay Couples”?

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Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen
Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen

Even in the Catholic world, a dangerous conviction is making inroads in the sense that legal recognition of homosexual unions would be the only way to counter the advance of “gay marriage.” “No to gay marriage, yes to recognition of the rights of de factocouples and homosexuals,” is the watchword spread by those who would like to organize a line of resistance based on the failed principle, “give in [some] so as not to lose [all].”

This is not just a colossal strategic error, but also, and above all, a serious moral error.

Indeed, not only Catholic, but also natural morals, hinges on the principle that we must do good and avoid evil: bonum faciendum et malum vitandum. This first principle is immediately apparent to man at all times and everywhere and does not allow for interpretations or compromise. By postulating the existence of good and evil, it presupposes the existence of objective and immutable moral truths which man finds above all in his own heart, because it is a natural law written “on the tables of the human heart by the very finger of the Creator himself” (Rm. 2:14-15).

A necessary consequence results from the principle that we must do good and avoid evil: it is never licit to anyone to do evil in any sphere, be it private or public.

In exceptional cases, evil, which is the transgression of the moral law, can be tolerated but must never be positively carried out. This means that no circumstance or good intentions can ever transform an intrinsically evil act into a good or indifferent human act. However noble the intentions behind it, an evil act, as minor as it might be, could never ever be committed.

The moral system of “proportionalism” in vogue today, rejects the idea of absolute principles in the moral sphere and admits the possibility of carrying out the “lesser evil” in a particular situation, in order to obtain a proportionately greater good.

This theory has been condemned by Pope John Paul II in the encyclical Veritatis Splendor, which reaffirms the existence of unconditional and immutable “moral absolutes.” According to him, “The weighing of the goods and evils foreseeable as the consequence of an action is not an adequate method for determining whether the choice of that concrete kind of behavior is “according to its species”, or “in itself,” morally good or bad, licit or illicit”(N. 77).

Indeed, the correct criterion of moral judgment is what assesses an act as “good” or “bad” to the degree that it respects or violates the natural and divine law, considering it first of all in and of itself, that is in its essence, circumstances and consequences. Instead, the proportionalist criterion is relativistic, because it evaluates an act as “better” or “worse” depending on whether it makes a given situation better or worse. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in its Note of December 21, 2010 about the trivialization of sexuality, referring to some of those who interpreted the words of Benedict XVI in his book Light of the worldas using the theory of the “lesser evil,” declared that “this theory, is susceptible to misleading interpretations of a proportionalist matrix” was condemned by Veritatis Splendorbecause “an action which is objectively evil, even if it is a lesser evil, can never be licitly willed.”This is binding both on personal and public conduct.

While Catholic lawmakers may be unable to achieve the greatest good in practice, they can never promote a law unjust in itself regardless of its motivation. If one accepts the principle that a lesser evil can be done in order to achieve a greater good, Catholics could promote therapeutic abortion to avoid selective abortion; homologous artificial fertilization to avoid the heterologous type; and civil unions to avoid same-sex marriage. But by doing so they would cause the entire moral framework to collapse because, from lesser evil to lesser evil, every moral choice could be arbitrarily justified.

There are those who, in order to justify the principle of the lesser evil in the political sphere, refer to a phrase of John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae.

According to which “an elected official … could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law [on abortion] and at lessening its negative consequences.”(N.73). But this interpretation is inconsistent with both Veritatis Splendor and the moral Magisterium of the Church, which teaches that one can tolerate an evil by refusing to suppress it, and even regulate an evil in the sense of reducing its freedom and field of action; but one can never allow or regulate an evil by allowing it, because that would mean approving it and becoming complicit with it (cf. Ramon Garcia de Haro, La vita cristiana, Ares, Milano 1995).

In that passage, the Pope is not saying that it is licit for a Catholic to propose a bad law, but that it is lawful for him to take action on a bill being prepared in parliament by presenting amendments which restrict or repeal its permissive and immoral provisions.

In this case, one is talking about amendments which prevent some regulatory proposals from becoming law. However, it should be noted that, in our legal system, the law must be voted on not only item by item, but, in the end also as a whole, as a sign of overall approval.

Therefore, a Catholic politician would never be allowed to cast a final, positive vote on a piece of legislation allowing immoral actions even if that law resulted from the approval of its amendments.

In fact, he cannot accept in any case and under any circumstances, overall responsibility for a final law authorizing, for example, abortion, even if only in rare and extreme cases. This means that he may correct the bill through corrective amendments but may not approve its final text if immoral provisions remain.

In order for a Catholic politician to be morally allowed to propose a law, it must have its own integritas.

That is, it must be totally correct in the sense that none of its provisions contradict natural and divine Law. But if a law contains even a single intrinsically and objectively immoral provision, it is a “non-law.” In no way can a Catholic politician vote for it as a whole, otherwise he would incur moral and juridical responsibility for the entire text. As St. Thomas Aquinas never tires of repeating, “Bonum ex integra causa, malum ex quocumque defectu”(Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 71, a. 5, ad 2, II-II, q. 79, a. 3 ad 4).

In Italy, members of the center-right and center-left are finding “broad agreement” on an eventual exhumation of DICO.

A bill to give legal recognition to cohabiting couples (on the “rights and obligations of persons stably living together”) introduced by the Prodi government in February 2007. At that time the bill stalled due to the opposition of Catholics. Today, however, even some personalities of the Catholic world consider recognition of de facto homosexual unions as a “lesser evil” that could be undertaken in order to avoid the “greater evil” of “gay marriage.”

But from the moral point of view, granting homosexual unions legal recognition is as evil as legally equating them with marriage.

For this reason, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in its document titled Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons” (June 3, 2003), approved by Pope John Paul II, establishes that “respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.

Voting for such a law would entail complicity with an evil that is certainly not effaced by the so-called “damage limitation.” If there were two laws in Parliament, one that would legalize same-sex marriage and another that recognized the rights of homosexual couples while not equating them to marriage, Catholics still could not vote for the latter on the pretext that it was “less bad” than the former; and if it the worst law passed, the sole responsibility would be of those who signed it. How can we imagine that a Catholic can approve a law which legally protects one of those “sins that cry out to Heaven,” such as “the sin of the Sodomites” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, N. 1867)?

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