EXCLUSIVE: Why Catholics Should Affirm Civil Marriage Equality

April 15, 2014
Professor Lisa Fullam

Professor Lisa Fullam

A new theological argument in favor of Catholic support for civil same-sex marriage is being published today on Bondings 2.0.  The article is written by Professor Lisa Fullam, an associate professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, California.   You can access the full text of the article on its own page by clicking here.

Entitled “Civil Same-Sex Marriage:  A Catholic Affirmation,” Prof. Fullam’s essay uses the Catholic intellectual tradition to argue that support for civil marriage for lesbian and gay couples is in line with our church’s best ideas about marriage, civil society, and church-state relations.  It deserves a full and thoughtful reading by all who are concerned with these issues.

The problem with the current Catholic debate on civil marriage, according to Fullam, is that it is both too broad and too narrow. In the article’s abstract, she states:

“Too broad: civil same-sex marriage is sometimes described as parallel to same-sex marriage in the Church. Too narrow: some Catholic contributions to the discussion have centered on reproductive capacity, ignoring Catholicism’s rich tradition which values marriage beyond procreation.”

The essay is divided into three sections:

  1. a discussion of how Catholic thought understands civil law;
  2. a critique of magisterial statements in the public debate about marriage;
  3. an enumeration or reasons why Catholics might work for marriage equality.

Fullam’s essay is both theologically rich and relevant to contemporary lives. For example, her working definition of the traditional concept of  “natural law” begins with a full accounting of human nature, which she defines as:

“. . . the capacities and potential excellences of the human creature, seen in the light of the best knowledge available to us—biological, psychological, sociological, philosophical (including theological,) spiritual, artistic, historic (including personal experience), etc. Natural law is sometimes confused with the biological functions of human bodies, but this misunderstanding fails to consider human nature in this fuller sense, that we are rational and creative discerners of meaning, seeking to grow in virtue, aided by the grace of God. To see how the natural law guides us in a given situation is to think deeply about how the question before us is best resolved for the flourishing of ourselves and our societies. “

Among the most thought-provoking part of the essay is her critique of magisterial arguments against same-sex marriage, including those from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Pope John Paul  II’s “Theology of the Body.”   By basing her argument in the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes, which acknowledged that marriages served both unitive and procreative ends, Fullam shows how leaders like the U.S. bishops have narrowed down the Council’s teaching on marriage:

“According to the bishops, the ‘communion of persons’ of Gaudium et Spes is revealed in the procreative capacity of couples: while the Council taught that non-procreative marriages are still marriages, the USCCB roots the unitive end of marriage in the procreative possibility of heterosexual marriage.”

In the last section, Fullam shows how the magisterium’s focus on procreation leads to many inconsistencies in their approach to civil marriage and family life.  For example, she notes the situation of adoption:

“Those who raise children not biologically their own are reaching beyond a reproductive imperative to a spiritually-resonant act of profound devotion. They make a great contribution to the common good. To base the social value of marriage on the potential for biological procreation would be to ignore the generosity of adoptive parents, and to render their families somehow unnatural or second-class. This would be a fundamental injustice to those families, and an odd reversal of Christian tradition that emphasizes caring for those in need. “

And she ponders what other civil laws might be needed if a view of marriage that has procreation as its definition were to take hold in secular society:

“Unless we are willing to redefine civil marriage in reproductive terms–perhaps automatically divorcing couples who do not reproduce in a reasonable amount of time, for instance, or denying marriage to women of a certain age or those who are sterile by choice or by happenstance–in denying civil marriage to same-sex couples, we discriminate against them precisely because they are homosexual, a form of unjustifiable discrimination that is contrary to Catholic social teaching.”

Fullam’s essay gives solid, theological underpinnings to the hopes of so many Catholics whose consciences have told them that marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples is a matter of justice.  By grounding her thought in both Thomas Aquinas and the Second Vatican Council, Fullam shows just how Catholic an argument for marriage equality can be.  Reading through this essay will help all those who often find themselves challenged by Catholic opponents to marriage equality.  And it will also give them a deeper understanding and appreciation of our Catholic faith and intellectual tradition.

You can read the entire essay on Bondings 2.0 by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Gay Boy Scout Denied Eagle Rank Sparks Reflection on Catholic Teaching

October 14, 2012

The case of a Boy Scout being denied Eagle rank because he is gay has made one Commonweal blogger wonder why Catholic  leaders have not spoken out against this injustice.


Ryan Andresen

NBCNews.com earlier this month reported the case of Ryan Andreson, a 17-year old Scout from Moraga, California, had completed his Eagle Scout requirements, but his Scoutmaster refused to sign his form:

“. . . the Boy Scouts of America said in a statement that because of Andresen’s sexual orientation and that he did not agree to Scouting’s principle of ‘Duty to God,’ ‘he is no longer eligible for membership in Scouting.’ But the family on Friday disputed that, saying the only reason Andresen was denied the rank is ‘because the Boy Scouts of America has a problem with Ryan being gay.’ “

Commonweal  blogger Lisa Fullam has questioned why Catholic leadership have not spoken out on this case of blatant discrimination.    Since Catholic teaching on homosexuality defends human dignity, Catholic leaders should be forthright on this matter:

“Official Catholic teaching, unlike that of many right-wing evangelical churches, draws a distinction between sexual inclination/desire (the official teaching tends not to use the word “orientation,”) and sexual acts. Homosexual acts are condemned, while homosexual desire is not. I suspect the BSA does not encourage sexual activity for any of its members, but rather encourages them to remain sexually abstinent, at least until marriage or responsible adulthood. (A quick googling didn’t answer this question for me. My searches yielded reports about sex abuse and poor responses to sex abuse within this all-heterosexual group.) Why wouldn’t the Catholic Church want to encourage all interested kids to join groups calling for responsible chastity? Not to mention the fact that scouting might help them find the kind of solid friends that Church teaching says is helpful for gays in dealing with homosexual desire? Catholic magisterial teaching says that no unjust discrimination of any kind should be practiced against LGB people–wouldn’t involvement in a group that helps form responsible and thoughtful men be a good thing for gay kids? (Since I am talking about a response by Catholic leadership here, I am not calling into question the Church’s teaching on same-sex relationships here. There’s no need to change Catholic teaching in order for Church leaders to support scouting for gay kids.)”

Fullam cites another reason that Catholic leaders should speak out on cases like this, and it has to do with a topic that has occupied their minds greatly of late–religious liberty:

“We’ve heard a lot about religious liberty from Catholic leadership this year. Many Christian denominations and other religious groups are supportive of LGBT people and (when appropriate) same-sex relationships. It may well be the case for Ryan–and it is undoubtedly the case for many scouts–that Duty to God as they understand God REQUIRES them to be open and affirming of LGBT people. In their own well-formed consciences, such scouts are put in a difficult position of having to decide whether their membership in a group that excludes gays is in conflict with their promise within that very group to be reverent and to serve God. Wouldn’t a call for an inclusive stance point to the bishops’ sense of the urgency of protecting religious freedom for all and the importance of obeying conscience?”

Fullam’s case is a solid one.  Catholic bishops and other leaders have been shamefully silent on the epidemic of bullying in recent years, and the Andresen case is, at bottom, a case of institutional bullying.  I suspect that Catholic leaders’ obsession with not supporting marriage equality initiatives has made them gun-shy about supporting any initiative that supports LGBT people.  That is not only shameful, but, as Fullam’s argument illustrates, it is a denial of the Catholic Church’s clear teaching on anti-discrimination and religious liberty.   Our youth, and our entire church, deserve better from our leaders.

Ryan’s mother, Karen Andersen, so clearly reflects Catholic principles in the defense of her son quoted by NBCNews.com:

“ ‘I want everyone to know that [the Eagle award] should be based on accomplishment, not your sexual orientation. Ryan entered Scouts when he was six years old and in no way knew what he was,’ said Karen Andresen, 49, a stay-at-home mother of three. ‘I think right now the Scoutmaster is sending Ryan the message that he’s not a valued human being and I want Ryan to know that he is valued … and that people care about him.’ “

Catholic people in the pews can show their support for Ryan Andresen and LGBT youth like him by signing a petition that his mother has organized to secure  his Eagle ranking.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



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