Australian Catholics for Equality and Supporters Addresses “Don’t Mess with Marriage” & Homophobia in Anti-Marriage Equality Campaign
• ‘Don’t Mess with Marriage’ is misleading and unrepresentative of diverse Catholic and broad Christian viewpoints.
• ‘Don’t Mess with Marriage’ is homophobic, offensive and has not included the voices of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex Catholics, their families, friends and communities.
• Catholic voices are not merely that of bishops, we must include lay voices, as majority of Catholics in this country supports Marriage Equality.
• Most Catholics’ support for Marriage Equality are affirmed by their Christian faith and Catholic Social Teaching
• Recommend an alternative Catholic Christian viewpoint- ‘Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach’ published in 2011, it is available on
In late˗May 2015 the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference issued a pastoral letter with the rather gauche title ‘Don’t Mess with Marriage’.
As members and supporters of Australian Catholics for Equality we wish to voice our deep disappointment and concern about this pastoral letter.
The bishops’ letter has already caused much distress and offence to many people, not least to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) members of our communities, Catholics and non-Catholics alike. It has also hurt and offended families and friends of LGBTI people. The document contains misinformation, lacks a theological base and has clearly failed to demonstrate genuine understanding, respect, compassion and sensitivity to the lives and the lived experiences of LGBTI members within the Catholic community.
Despite a brief acknowledgement that ‘the Catholic Church opposes all forms of unjust discrimination’, it has failed to demonstrate that commitment in most parts of the rest of the document.
We know from established research in Australia and overseas that the dangers of homophobic related discrimination causes poor mental health and posts high suicide risks to LGBTI members of our community. The sentiments expressed in the bishops’ pastoral letter is dangerous and risk further disenfranchising LGBTI people, as well as their families and communities, who have historically suffered much unjust discrimination within our society and church.
The letter states unequivocally that nowadays ‘we face a struggle for the very soul of marriage’ without ever defining what it means by the so-called ‘traditional view of marriage’ which, throughout history, has taken on many different manifestations. The letter simply assumes that it is the role of Catholic bishops to defend all forms of marriage. It ignores the fact that marriage in various forms and in various cultures and has existed for centuries before Christ, and that the Catholic Church itself only recognized marriage as a sacrament in the eleventh century AD.
As the leading historian of sacramental theology, Joseph Martos says: ‘Before the eleventh century there was no such thing as a Christian wedding ceremony in the Latin church, and throughout the Middle Ages there was no single church ritual for solemnizing marriage between Christians.’ Certainly sacramental marriage is a legitimate development of doctrine, but it does illustrate that for eleven hundred years the church understood that marriage was a natural state that was governed by civil law and that the church’s interference was minimal or non-existent.
The pastoral letter makes a passing reference to the Letter to the Ephesians (5:22-33) where it is thought that Saint Paul compares heterosexual marriage to Christ’s love for the church. But, as modern interpretation has shown, this text is not focused marriage at all, nor is it about gender roles. Paul’s primary focus is on Christ’s relationship to the church which he compares to that of marriage.
With recent remarks from some bishops opposing civil Marriage Equality, it is clear that they don’t seem to understand that there is a clear distinction between an ordinary ‘natural’ marriage, now entirely subject to the civil law, and sacramental marriage which is subject to church law. It is not the role of the Bishops Conference in a democratic, multifaith, multicultural, pluralistic society like Australia to be defining civil marriage, let alone determining who can be civilly married. Nor is it the role of the bishops ‘to define marriage as traditionally understood’ in society, or to be the guardians of ‘cultural tradition’.
The letter-booklet not only confuses these two forms of marriage but advances a series of weak, non-theological arguments drawn from what happened elsewhere to try to exclude an expansion of the civil law to grant to LGBTI persons the right to marry. Also the Bishops who support ‘Don’t Mess with Marriage’, need to recall the theology of ‘consulting the laity’ as Cardinal Newman called it. Vatican II defines the Church as the entire the People of God, and through our shared baptism we are all equal partners with the clergy and bishops in the Church.
For our fellow Australians, it is important for us to remember that in order to know the full Catholic position on any issue, it is important to listen not only to the bishops, but also to take into account the views and experience of theologians and the laity.
We believe the church has a responsibility to ensure that all our sisters and brothers are treated with integral and full respect in their total personhood, without reducing them to a mere issue, or to a sexual orientation, as many parts of the letter tends to do.
We refer members of our Catholic communities to another document that should be promoted in our Catholic schools, churches and institutions called ‘Marriage Equality ˗ A Positive Catholic Approach‘ (2011) as an alternate viewpoint. This document highlights some of the important issues that can often be overlooked and misrepresented in this debate within the Catholic Church.
Catholics in Australia overwhelmingly support marriage equality. For many Catholics, their support for civil marriage equality is driven by their faith and their commitment to social justice. Catholic Social Teaching demands that we treat people fairly with equal dignity regardless of their state of life or their beliefs. Catholics don’t want their LGBTIQ sisters and brothers be discriminated against by the state, and believe that they should be treated exactly the same as their heterosexual fellow citizens. Australian Catholics for Equality believes that the civil law should be applied equally to all and that LGBTI couples and their children receive the same respect and rights as that of everyone else.
It is important to acknowledge that there are Christians Churches as well as other religious communities that will perform marriages for same-sex/gender couples and are at this point discriminated against based on their religious freedom and beliefs.
For those who hold a genuine and sincere belief in sacramental or religious marriage, it is important to understand that the proposed laws will affect only civil marriages. Churches and religious institutions will not be forced to marry any couple that comes along. What some in the Catholic Church is trying to protect is a sacramental form of marriage, and the proposed changes to the civil law will in no way effect the church’s belief in marriage as a sacrament.
In prayer and solidarity with all people of goodwill, let us work together in challenging homophobic and heterosexist attitudes in our communities to build a much more equal, fair and just society where all God’s children can flourish. Amen.
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