Advocates for ‘same-sex marriage’ 1 rarely focus on the real meaning and purpose of marriage. Instead they assume that equal dignity and the principle of non- discrimination demand the legal recognition of same-sex relationships as marriages. This appeal to equality and non- discrimination gets things the wrong way around. Justice requires us to treat people fairly and therefore not to make arbitrary, groundless distinctions.
Only women are admitted to women’s hospitals and only children to primary schools. We have programmes targeted at Aborigines, refugees, athletes, those with disabilities or reading difficulties, and so on. Thus privileging or assisting particular people in relevant ways is not arbitrary but an entirely fair response. And if the union of a man and a woman is different from other unions – not the same as other unions – then justice demands that we treat that union accordingly. If marriage is an institution designed to support people of the opposite sex to be faithful to each other and to the children of their union it is not discrimination to reserve it to them. Indeed, in this pastoral letter we argue that what is unjust – gravely unjust – is:
- to legitimise the false assertion that there is nothing distinctive about a man and a woman, a father or a mother;
• to ignore the particular values that real marriage serves;
• to ignore the importance for children of having, as far as possible, a mum and a dad, committed to them and to each other for the long haul;
• to destabilize marriage further at a time when it is already under considerable pressure; and
• to change retrospectively the basis upon which all existing married couples got married
1. Although we use the language of “same-sex marriage” throughout this pastoral letter, we do not consider that same-sex relationships can ever amount to marriage. As we argue, the meaning of marriage is confined to relationships between a man and woman entered into voluntarily for life to the exclusion of all others and which is open to the procreation of children.
If we are right in this assertion and if the civil law ceases to define marriage as traditionally understood, it will be a serious injustice and undermine that common good for which the civil law exists. Whether we are right depends upon what marriage really is…