Following the December 2011 Labor National Conference's vote to recognise same sex marriage as official party policy, Stephen Jones, the Labor Federal Member for Throsby (NSW), indicated that he would be introducing a private member's bill in the first half of 2012 to change the Marriage Amendment Act of 2004.
That Act amended the Marriage Act 1961 to define marriage as "the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life" and to confirm that unions solemnised overseas between same sex couples would not be recognised as marriages in Australia.
Stephen Jones told The Australian that while he had not been a campaigner for same sex marriage in the past, "when I sat down and thought about it, I couldn't find a good argument against it."
This was an interesting observation, given that, as he informs us, "I grew up in Wollongong in a big Catholic family", attending St Brigid's Primary School, Gwynneville, and later Edmund Rice College in Wollongong where he graduated as Dux and School Captain.
Apparently the Church's very clear teaching in the Catechism wasn't mentioned during his years at Catholic schools, or at least not adequately explained or justified.
Under these circumstances, the content of the Church's most recent statement on homosexuality needs to be revisited.
Since 2003, the push for legal recognition has increased in intensity, moving beyond the call for civil unions to the recognition of same sex "marriage". In some cases Catholic politicians have been at the forefront of such calls.
On 3 June 2003, the Vatican released a document titled "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons". It was published under the name of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and now Pope Benedict XVI.
In its introduction, the above document noted that it was not presenting "new doctrinal elements" but rather sought "to reiterate the essential points on this question and provide arguments drawn from reason ... aimed at protecting and promoting the dignity of marriage, the foundation of the family, and the stability of society, of which this institution is a constitutive element."
Regarding the responsibilities of Catholic politicians the document had this to say:
"If it is true that all Catholics are obliged to oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions, Catholic politicians are obliged to do so in a particular way, in keeping with their responsibility as politicians. Faced with legislative proposals in favour of homosexual unions, Catholic politicians are to take account of the following ethical indications.
"When legislation in favour of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic lawmaker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favour of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral (my emphasis)."
The 2003 document, which can be accessed on the Internet, is short and easy to follow. Its full text should be studied in schools and parishes. The following are a few extracts.
"The Church's teaching on marriage and on the complementarity of the sexes reiterates a truth that is evident to right reason and recognised as such by all the major cultures of the world. Marriage is not just any relationship between human beings."
"The marital union of man and woman has been elevated by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament. The Church teaches that Christian marriage is an efficacious sign of the covenant between Christ and the Church (cf. Eph 5:32)."
"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."
"Sacred Scripture condemns homosexual acts 'as a serious depravity...' (cf. Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 6:10; 1 Tim 1:10). This judgment of Scripture does not of course permit us to conclude that all those who suffer from this anomaly are personally responsible for it, but it does attest to the fact that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."
"Nonetheless, according to the teaching of the Church (see Catechism) men and women with homosexual tendencies 'must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided'. They are called, like other Christians, to live the virtue of chastity."
"In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognised 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 co-operation 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."
"As experience has shown, the absence of sexual complementarity in these unions creates obstacles in the normal development of children who would be placed in the care of such persons. They would be deprived of the experience of either fatherhood or motherhood. Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children."
The institution of marriage preceded the establishment of any religion and was based on the protection of women and children to create the foundation for stable families.
The state's interest in marriage arises from the fact that families are the foundation of stable communities and societies.