What effect do civil unions have on marriage?

Civil unions have been proposed as a way to give gays access to similar rights as married persons, but without same-sex marriage. The Magisterium rightly opposes this approach, since it proposes to legalize what is gravely immoral, and to establish a legal imitation of marriage.

Considerations Regarding Proposals To Give Legal Recognition To Unions Between Homosexual Persons

“Marriage is not just any relationship between human beings. It was established by the Creator with its own nature, essential properties and purpose. 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.”

“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 approved’.”

“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.”

“The Church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior 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 behavior, 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 itself.”

The above document was written by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The approval of civil unions for homosexuals is gravely immoral, since it implies the approval of deviant behavior, and obscures the basic values of marriage and family, thereby harming the common good.

But the document, and much of the discussion among Catholics, has failed to anticipate a grave situation that also results from the legalization of civil unions, as a type of substitute for marriage — that vast numbers of heterosexual couples would choose civil unions over marriage.

In France, where civil unions have been legal since 1999, this is already the case: “of the 173,045 civil unions signed in 2009, 95 percent were between heterosexual couples.”

“French couples are increasingly shunning traditional marriages and opting instead for civil unions, to the point that there are now two civil unions for every three marriages.” [NY Times]

The legalization of civil unions has harmed marriage by offering the legal benefits of marriage to straight couples without any religious meaning and without the difficulties of divorce. Ending a civil union is legally much easier than ending a marriage by divorce. This enticement has drawn hundreds of thousands of couples away from a marriage in the Church, to a legalized relationship that is gravely immoral since it includes non-marital sexual relations.

“If current trends continue in France, new civil unions could soon outnumber marriages, as they already do in Paris’s youthful 11th Arrondissement.”

And this is occurring in a nation where most of the population is Catholic or at least used to be Catholic.

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