What is the Catholic View of Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriage?

The Catholic Church takes a very high view of marriage and human sexuality. As the account of Genesis shows, marriage and sexuality were created by God and given to mankind as gifts for our benefit. Scripture records God’s statement that “It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a help like unto himself." As a result, “a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be two in one flesh.” Some may forego the good of marriage to serve a higher calling (cf. Matt. 19:10-12), but it is a good nevertheless.

Marriage is a conduit through which God’s grace flows to the couple and their children. The Catholic Church understands marriage between a baptized man and woman to be a sacrament, a visible sign of the grace that God gives them to help them live their lives here and now so as to be able to join him in eternity. For Catholics, marriage is social as well as religious, but its religious aspects are very important. The Bible repeatedly compares the relationship between man and wife to that between God and Israel or between Christ and his Church. For Catholics, marriage is a holy vocation.

Male and Female Complementarity

Men and women are different and in many ways complementary. The differences between man and woman are obvious to all but the most ideologically blinded deconstructionists. Men and women have been found by psychologists in every culture to differ in aggression and general activity level, types of cognitive strength, sensory sensitivity, and sexual behavior.

These differences matter both spiritually and physically, for without the complementarity between a man and a woman on all these levels, the deepest forms of union are not possible. The unity possible to two men or two women will be necessarily lopsided, both spiritually and anatomically, and therefore ultimately unsatisfying. Two men together cannot capture the fullness of human personhood, and neither can two women; for that, you need one man and one woman. However exclusive, unconditional and permanent same-sex relationships may aspire to be, they lack the complementarity that the deepest fulfillment requires. This fact may explain some of the amazing sexual behavior in the homosexual subculture.

Sexual complementarity between man and woman makes possible another feature of marriage: the giving of life. The love between man and woman is designed to call new human life into existence and in so doing make the shared life of the couple more abundantly fulfilling. It does not always produce new life, but that is what it is designed to do. So marriage, to succeed, must be exclusive, permanent, unconditional, and open to new life.

One big difference between homosexual couples and infertile heterosexual couples is that the heterosexual couple enjoys sexual complementarity, and the fullness that brings into their relationship, even if they cannot have children. Further, although the situation of an infertile couple is very different, there is a disturbing parallel to same-sex marriage in the situation of couples who simply choose not to have children.

Such couples are still able to have sex, the fullest physical expression of love between husband and wife. But they are doing something that profoundly disturbs the nature of the sexual act. Sexuality has two aspects: the procreative (bringing forth children) and the unitive (strengthening the union of the couple). Artificially separating the unitive from the procreative brings discord to a marriage, distorts the relationship between husband and wife, and ends up harming their unity as spouses.

There are several ways men and women can reduce one another to the status of object. Sex between couples who are not married and therefore do not bring a total commitment to their union are essentially telling a lie with their bodies, because their bodies speak a language of total, unconditional, and permanent self-giving when in fact they are doing nothing of the sort. In that sense, their sexual expression becomes a lie, because it misrepresents their relationship. Regardless of their feelings for each other, their sexual expression promises more than it objectively delivers.

Fornication and adultery are not the only ways couples can lie with their bodies. Married couples who are committed to exclusive, permanent, and unconditional love may also tell a lie with their bodies when they separate the procreative aspect of sex from the unitive through contraception. Here, the failure to give oneself fully is more subtle but nonetheless real. Deliberately frustrating the procreative.aspect of a sexual act creates a condition that makes self-giving only partial and reduces the spouse, in some degree, to a pleasure object used for selfish purposes.

This does not mean that sex can be truly self-giving only during fertile parts of a woman’s cycle. The Church has never taught that couples must have as many children as possible. Rather, it means that interference with fertility both arises out of spousal selfishness and increases it. The Church approves natural family planning, in which couples abstain during fertile periods when they prayerfully have determined that there is a need to avoid pregnancy. In these cases the spouses are not separating the unitive and procreative.aspects of a sexual act; they are simply refraining from performing the act. Similarly, sex after menopause or when suffering from other forms of infertility do not divide the unitive from the procreative. The couple’s act is still ordered toward procreation; it is simply that procreation will not occur.

The Dangers of Redefining Marriage

One of the downsides to redefining marriage to include same-sex couples would be the weakening of the meaning of marriage, which would cause more divorces. Human nature being what it is, if the meaning of marriage is weakened, it will be psychologically easier for even more people to divorce. Look at what happened when “no-fault” divorce was legalized: The divorce rate skyrocketed (link opens a PDF). If the nature of marriage is further undermined in the minds of couples then when things get rocky, more couples will be tempted not to work through their problems and get happy again but rather to divorce and find someone else.

That is a bad idea, because most marriage therapists agree that divorce generally “doesn’t work.” Divorce doesn't solve the problems that caused the first marriage to break up. Divorced people bring the same problems to their new marriages that broke up their old ones; that’s why second and later marriages are statistically far more likely to end in divorce than first marriages are. Also, a large majority of couples who contemplate divorce but stay together describe themselves as “happily married” five years later. So staying together “works” better than divorce.

Feelings of love are only part of what holds a couple together. When things get tough, as they do from time to time in every marriage, external factors help hold the spouses together—external factors such as concern about their kids or about the attitudes of society, including their friends, relatives, co-workers, or church. The exploding divorce rate we have seen since “no-fault” destroyed much of the stigma of divorce shows how important external factors are in keeping couples together.

There are other consequences which were previously written off as fear-mongering or slippery-slope fallacies. After same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada, the Toronto School Board implemented a curriculum promoting homosexuality and denouncing “heterosexism” (link opens a PDF). They also produced posters titled “Love Has No Gender,” which depicted both homosexual and polygamous relationships as equivalent to marriage. Despite parents’ objections, the board decreed that they had no right to remove their children from such instruction. This and many similar cases confirm that when marriage is redefined, the new definition is forced on children, regardless of their parents’ desires.

Also, reshaping marriage threatens moral and religious liberty, as we are already seeing in our own country: In Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., for instance, Catholic Charities can no longer provide charitable adoption services based on new definitions of marriage, and the California Legislature passed a bill to legalize families of three or more parents. In Brazil and the Netherlands, three-way relationships were recently granted the full rights of marriage. In Canada, Bishop Frederick Henry was investigated by the Alberta Human Rights Commission for simply explaining the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality in a newspaper column.

The Sinfulness of Homosexual Behavior

Every human being is called to receive a gift of divine sonship, to become a child of God by grace. However, to receive this gift, we must reject sin, including homosexual behavior—that is, acts intended to arouse or stimulate a sexual response regarding a person of the same sex. The Catholic Church teaches that such acts are always violations of divine and natural law.

Homosexual desires, however, are not in themselves sinful. People are subject to a wide variety of sinful desires over which they have little direct control, but these do not become sinful until a person acts upon them, either by acting out the desire or by encouraging the desire and deliberately engaging in fantasies about acting it out. People tempted by homosexual desires, like people tempted by improper heterosexual desires, are not sinning until they act upon those desires in some manner.

The rejection of homosexual behavior that is found in the Old Testament is well known. In Genesis 19, two angels in disguise visit the city of Sodom and are offered hospitality and shelter by Lot. During the night, the men of Sodom demand that Lot hand over his guests for homosexual intercourse. Lot refuses, and the angels blind the men of Sodom. Lot and his household escape, and the town is destroyed by fire “because their cry is grown loud before the Lord, who hath sent us to destroy them.

Throughout history, Jewish and Christian scholars have recognized that one of the chief sins involved in God’s destruction of Sodom was its people’s homosexual behavior. But today, certain homosexual activists promote the idea that the sin of Sodom was merely a lack of hospitality. Although inhospitality is a sin, it is clearly the homosexual behavior of the Sodomites that is singled out for special criticism in the account of their city’s destruction. We must look to Scripture’s own interpretation of the sin of Sodom.

Jude 7 records that Sodom and Gomorrah “having given themselves to fornication, and going after other flesh, were made an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire.” Ezekiel says that Sodom committed “abominations,” which could refer to homosexual and heterosexual acts of sin. Lot even offered his two virgin daughters in place of his guests, but the men of Sodom rejected the offer, preferring homosexual sex over heterosexual sex. Ezekiel does allude to a lack of hospitality in saying that Sodom “did not aid the poor and needy.” So homosexual acts and a lack of hospitality both contributed to the destruction of Sodom, with the former being the far greater sin, the “abomination” that set off God’s wrath.

But the Sodom incident is not the only time the Old Testament deals with homosexuality. An explicit condemnation is found in the book of Leviticus: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind, because it is an abomination If any one lie with a man as with a woman, both have committed an abomination, let them be put to death: their blood be upon them.

To discount this, some homosexual activists have argued that moral imperatives from the Old Testament can be dismissed since there were certain ceremonial requirements at the time—such as not eating pork, or circumcising male babies—that are no longer binding. But while the Old Testament’s ceremonial requirements are no longer binding, its moral requirements are. God may issue different ceremonies for use in different times and cultures, but his moral requirements are eternal and are binding on all cultures.

Confirming this fact is the New Testament’s forceful rejection of homosexual behavior as well. In Romans 1, Paul attributes the homosexual desires of some to a refusal to acknowledge and worship God. He says, “For this cause God delivered them up to shameful affections. For their women have changed the natural use into that use which is against nature. And, in like manner, the men also, leaving the natural use of the women, have burned in their lusts one towards another, men with men working that which is filthy, and receiving in themselves the recompense which was due to their error. And as they liked not to have God in their knowledge, God delivered them up to a reprobate sense, to do those things which are not convenient … Who, having known the justice of God, did not understand that they who do such things, are worthy of death; and not only they that do them, but they also that consent to them that do them.”

Elsewhere Paul again warns that homosexual behavior is one of the sins that will deprive one of heaven: “Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners, shall possess the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-10)

All of Scripture teaches the unacceptability of homosexual behavior. But the rejection of this behavior is not an arbitrary prohibition. It, like other moral imperatives, is rooted in natural law—the design that God has built into human nature. People have a basic, ethical intuition that certain behaviors are wrong because they are unnatural. We perceive intuitively that the natural sex partner of a human is another human, not an animal.

The same reasoning applies to the case of homosexual behavior. The natural sex partner for a man is a woman, and the natural sex partner for a woman is a man. Thus, people have the corresponding intuition concerning homosexuality that they do about bestiality—that it is wrong because it is unnatural.

Natural law reasoning is the basis for almost all standard moral intuitions. For example, it is the dignity and value that each human being naturally possesses that makes the needless destruction of human life or infliction of physical and emotional pain immoral. This gives rise to a host of specific moral principles, such as the unacceptability of murder, kidnapping, mutilation, physical and emotional abuse, and so forth.

Many homosexuals argue that they have not chosen their condition, but that they were born that way, making homosexual behavior natural for them. But because something was not chosen does not mean it was inborn. Some desires are acquired or strengthened by habituation and conditioning instead of by conscious choice. For example, no one chooses to be an alcoholic, but one can become habituated to alcohol. Just as one can acquire alcoholic desires (by repeatedly becoming intoxicated) without consciously choosing them, so one may acquire homosexual desires (by engaging in homosexual fantasies or behavior) without consciously choosing them.

Since sexual desire is subject to a high degree of cognitive conditioning in humans (there is no biological reason why we find certain scents, forms of dress, or forms of underwear sexually stimulating), it would be most unusual if homosexual desires were not subject to a similar degree of cognitive conditioning.

Even if there is a genetic predisposition toward homosexuality (and studies on this point are inconclusive), the behavior remains unnatural because homosexuality is still not part of the natural design of humanity. It does not make homosexual behavior acceptable; other behaviors are not rendered acceptable simply because there may be a genetic predisposition toward them.

For example, scientific studies suggest some people are born with a hereditary disposition to alcoholism, but no one would argue someone ought to fulfill these inborn urges by becoming an alcoholic. Alcoholism is not an acceptable “lifestyle” any more than homosexuality is.

Homosexual activists often justify homosexuality by claiming that ten percent of the population is homosexual, meaning that it is a common and thus acceptable behavior. But not all common behaviors are acceptable, and even if ten percent of the population were born homosexual, this would prove nothing. One hundred percent of the population is born with original sin and the desires flowing from it. If those desires manifest themselves in a homosexual fashion in ten percent of the population, all that does is give us information about the demographics of original sin.

But the fact is that the ten percent figure is false. It stems from the 1948 report by Alfred Kinsey, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. The study was profoundly flawed, as later psychologists studying sexual behavior have agreed. Kinsey’s subjects were drawn heavily from convicted criminals; 1,400 of his 5,300 final subjects (twenty-six percent) were convicted sex offenders—a group that by definition is not representative of normal sexual practices.

Furthermore, the ten percent figure includes people who are not exclusively homosexual but who only engaged in some homosexual behavior for a period of time and then stopped—people who had gone through a fully or partially homosexual “phase” but who were not long-term homosexuals. (For a critique of Kinsey’s research methods, see Kinsey, Sex, and Fraud, by Dr. Judith Reisman and Edward Eichel.)

Recent and more scientifically accurate studies have shown that only around one to two percent of the population is homosexual.

Those opposed to homosexual behavior are often charged with “homophobia”, that they hold the position they do because they are “afraid” of homosexuals. Sometimes the charge is even made that these same people are perhaps homosexuals themselves and are overcompensating to hide this fact, even from themselves, by condemning other homosexuals.

Both of these arguments attempt to stop rational discussion of an issue by shifting the focus to one of the participants. In doing so, they dismiss another person’s arguments based on some real or supposed attribute of the person. In this case, the supposed attribute is a fear of homosexuals.

Like similar attempts to avoid rational discussion of an issue, the homophobia argument completely misses the point. Even if a person were afraid of homosexuals, that would not diminish his arguments against their behavior. The fact that a person is afraid of handguns would not nullify arguments against handguns, nor would the fact that a person might be afraid of handgun control diminish arguments against handgun control.

Furthermore, the homophobia charge rings false. The vast majority of those who oppose homosexual behavior are in no way “afraid” of homosexuals. A disagreement is not the same as a fear. One can disagree with something without fearing it, and the attempt to shut down rational discussion by crying “homophobe!” falls flat. It is an attempt to divert attention from the arguments against one’s position by focusing attention on the one who made the arguments, while trying to claim the moral high ground against him.

The modern arguments in favor of homosexuality have thus been insufficient to overcome the evidence that homosexual behavior is against divine and natural law, as the Bible and the Church, as well as the wider circle of Jewish and Christian (not to mention Muslim) writers, have always held.

The Catholic Church thus teaches: “Basing itself on sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They 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.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2357).

However, the Church also acknowledges that “[homosexuality’s] psychological genesis remains largely unexplained … The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s cross the difficulties that they may encounter from their condition.

“Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection” (CCC 2357-2359).

Paul comfortingly reminds us, at 1 Corinthians 10:13, “Let no temptation take hold on you, but such as is human. And God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able: but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it.”