Excerpts from French Bishops’ Document Which Affirms Same-Gender Relationships

French bishops

French bishops

Thanks to Bondings 2.0 reader Tom Luce, we are able to post excerpts from his translation of the French bishops’ document on same-gender marriage that we announced a few days ago.  As we mentioned, this document contained several unusually positive reflections about respect for gay and lesbian relationships, and the need to have civil and open discussion on the matter of marriage.  No U.S. bishops’ document even comes close to the content and tone of this document which was issued by the Family and Society Council of the French bishops’ conference.

To make sure that we are not giving the wrong impression, let me be clear that the document does not in any way support the legalization of marriage equality.  Still, the strong call for respecting gay and lesbian relationships is a giant step forward in hierarchical discourse, and it should be celebrated.

Below are excerpts from some of the more positive sections of this document which is entitled “Expand Marriage to Persons of the Same Sex?  Let’s Open the Debate!”  If you can read French, you can find the original text here.

I have not excerpted any of the sections which argue against marriage equality, since they are basically the same ones that have been used many times before.  The document is seven pages, single-spaced, in length, so it would be cumbersome to reproduce it here.  Again, our thanks go to Tom Luce for translating this document.  Tom blogs at leastharm.weebly.com.

Excerpts from 

“Expand Marriage to Persons of the Same Sex?  

Let’s Open the Debate!”

“Our society is facing a new situation, unexplored. Homosexuality has always existed, but until recently there had never been a claim on the part of homosexual persons to give a legal framework to a relationship to be entered into an historical
record, or to be seen as endowed with parental authority. It belongs to political authorities to listen to this request and make the most appropriate response. This response, then, is a political choice. The opening of marriage to same-sex persons is neither imposed by European law nor by any international convention. It is a policy option among others and a true democratic debate is needed to develop the best solution in the interest of everyone. . . .

“In order for this debate to be undertaken it is important first of all to recognize the conflict that exists between the meaning of heterosexual marriage and the contemporary homosexual experience. Without being aware of the issues within these divisions and differences, any real political work is impossible.1 It is a matter of respecting all the players in this debate and to allow each one to reflect more profoundly and to freely express ones convictions. If every reluctance or questioning of this reform of the law of the family is qualified a priori as “homophobic”, there can be had no deep debate. It’s the same when the request of homosexual persons is disqualified a priori. . . .

“The respect of all the players in the debate implies a common listening, a disposition to understand the arguments expressed and a search for shared language. This search for shared language takes for granted, on the part of Catholics, to translate the arguments drawn from Revelation into a language accessible to every open mind. In the same way in this debate which concerns the meaning of civil marriage, there is no place for discussing religious marriage, nor at the outset the connections between civil and religious marriage. It is not a matter of Catholics imposing a religious point of view, but to bring their contribution to this debate as citizens, basing themselves on anthropological and legal arguments. . . .

“If respect for the person is then clearly affirmed, it must also be admitted that homophobia by no means has disappeared from our society. For homosexual persons, the discovery and acceptance of their homosexuality often sets up a complex process. It isn’t always easy to assume the acceptance of one’s homosexuality in his/her professional circles or in his/her family circles. The victims of prejudice have a hard life and attitudes only change slowly, including within our Catholic communities and families. They are, however, called to be at the stage of welcoming every person, whatever may be his/her place on the path of life as child of God. So that which founds, for us Christians, our identity and equality among people is the fact that we are all sons and daughters of God. Unconditional welcoming of persons does not entail approval of all their acts, on the contrary, it recognizes that the human being is bigger than his/her acts. The rejection of homophobia and the welcoming of homosexual persons, such as they are, make up necessary conditions to be able to leave behind superficial reactions and enter into a calm debate around the demand of homosexual persons. . . .

“The diversity of homosexual practices must not hinder us from taking seriously the aspirations of those men and women who wish to engage in a stable bond. The respect and recognition of every person takes on henceforth a primary importance in our society. The discussions about multiculturalism, racism, feminism, and homophobia are underpinned by this demand for recognition which is expressed today in terms of equality. The non-recognition is experienced as oppression or discrimination. . . .

“Society, as well as the Church in her own domain, hears this demand on the part of homosexual persons and can seek an answer. All the while affirming the importance of the difference in sexes and the fact that homosexual partners are different from heterosexual couples because of the impossibility to procreate naturally, we are able to appreciate the desire for a commitment to fidelity in a love relationship: of a sincere attachment, of a deep caring, one for the other, and of a lasting bond that goes far beyond the putdown of homosexual relationships as a simple erotic involvement. . . .

“The Catholic Church calls the faithful to live such a relationship in chastity but she recognizes, beyond the one sexual aspect, the value of solidarity, of the attention and care of the other which can manifest itself in a lasting affective relationship. The Church wants to be welcoming toward homosexual persons and will continue to bring its contribution to the fight against every form of homophobia and discrimination. . . .

“An evolution of the law of family is always possible. But rather than to give in to the pressure of different groups, France would do honor to itself by setting up a true debate in society and by looking for an original solution which would do right to the demand for recognition of homosexual persons without however infringing upon the anthropological foundations of society.”

Can it be that the positive tone in this document is simply a persuasive strategy so that the bishops do not sound so harsh?  Perhaps.  I prefer to take them at their word–and I hope and pray that people will hold them to their word, too, so that these positive attitudes will be backed up by actions.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

0 replies
  1. Terence
    Terence says:

    Thanks, Frank. I think that this document uncovers any number of really important issues, and deserves wide dissemination and study. Bill Lindsey has a translation of the complete text at Bilgrimage (http://bilgrimage.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/french-catholic-bishops-statement-on.html ) ,

    I’ve already written about the enormous significance hidden in this document, and have a series of posts planned to discuss this in some detail. I’ve been hindered though by my rudimentary French, so have perforce spent more time grappling with language than the substance.

    In particular, consider this simple, seemingly innocuous little observation buried in the text:

    “…….several studies show that homosexual practices have evolved and that today the desire to live in a stable loving relationship is more common than was the case 20 years ago.”

    The fascinating question is – why should this be so, when heterosexual society is so patently moving in the opposite direction? My guess is that this is in fact a direct result of the greater visibility and acceptability of openly gay/lesbian relationships. The infamous “hedonism”, promiscuity and lack of committed relationships in the past were a direct result of the necessity, for many people, to live deep in the closet.

    The behaviours that so scandalize religious religious conservatives are and were a direct result of their own prejudice, hostility and discrimination. The reduction in overt homophobia is one of the enabling factors behind this new LGBT interest in faithful, committed relationships.

    The inevitable conclusion, which the French bishops are heading towards but have not yet reached (some other denominations have done) – if you want to promote faithful and committed relationships for gay men (in particular), SUPPORT equal marriage.

  2. Mary
    Mary says:

    I think it’s vital to consider the context here. The new government has made it clear it will change the law on civil marriage, and the French bishops are begging for public discussion of the issues. Since most French citizens, including the fraction who identify as practicing Catholics, support gay unions, the bishops are ceding this point to focus on the thornier issue of filiation, which the French public is much more divided on.

  3. John Greenleaf
    John Greenleaf says:

    I find this strange….it is not a document from the French bishops but a study paper from a committee. And it was issued in September 2012. I wish the situtaion were otherwise……..

  4. tomfluce
    tomfluce says:

    Some of my immediate thoughts upon reflecting on the French Bishops’ paper on same-sex marriage, “Let’s Open the Debate!” (Sept. ’12”) (Note: I am now married faithfully for 43 years.)

    O.K., Francis:
    thanks to you and Terrence for keeping this doc as an important one to study. I would, though, qualify the doc not only as defending traditional marriage, but as giving an honest opening for an evolution of the question.

    And John:
    this is more than a study paper, in my opinion, but is the equivalent of an official statement of the US Bishops’ committee on the Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth and its subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage headed by Bishop Cordileone. You can see in detail its mission at the USCCB.org site. This French doc takes quite a different approach from our USCCB preachings and aggressive lobbying.

    The French bishops:
    say that it is the nature, the details of this commitment between two people, traditionally between a man and woman, that is central to this debate. They actually say they do want to participate in the debate as equals even though with sometimes diverging viewpoints. They say that they understand that expanding marriage and adoption to same sex couples is in fact “one policy option among others” and that a true democratic debate is needed to develop the best solution in the interest of everyone. As well they further say that while there are many positions, sometimes ideological, to be discussed, they do “come together” at a certain point. This means they envision common understandings that can be found and worked on. Night and day in contrast with our USCCB. I want to think it is not just political game playing to distract people from their Catholic positions. They definitely push the Catholic position, but without the biblical quotations and the biological emphasis on plumbing of sperm and eggs

    Mary is correct:
    in pointing out that the French bishops do press the issue of “filiation”, something that it seems only Philadelphia lawyers could make authoritative comments on. But I think it is not correct to say that these Bishops are giving a patronizing nod to the demands of homosexuals and, instead, are honing in on “filiation” as a way to gain support among the general population which is, as she says, more divisive.

    What the Bishops do spend a lot of time and passion on is:
    the complexity of relations–not just filiation–that are legal and affective, involved in marriage–not just religious, but also civil. The basic dynamics of affection and subsequent bonding between adults have become codified in quite complicated ways precisely to give support and protection to the individuals involved who will only too often be afflicted with alienation and sometimes with ultimate, perhaps, harmful separation, causing as well widespread social disruption. The French bishops point out how even more important these supports and protections are for innocent children.

    My initial questions are:
    1) do we (LGBTQ) have a body of literature that defines “marriage” and provides in meaningful, not just generalities, detailed supports and protections for a “stable loving relationship” “until death do us part”? The marvelous talks and papers I heard in Vermont around same sex marriage certainly must constitute some of the best literature. Can’t we say “amen” to the substance of the French bishops’ position on the component parts of a “stable” relationship?
    2)Within this body of literature is there a set of common understandings around which we could rally and demonstrate that we aspire to the same ideals as hetero-normed marriage?
    3) Can we not honestly demonstrate that same sex couples can make as genuine and profound a commitment to openness to life whether biologically engendered or whether socially arising out of legal contracts, i.e., adoption, engagement in social justice, etc? Can’t we answer the critique of the French bishops that we are fixated on the principle of equality, individual rights, to having a “thing” called marriage without giving a clear purpose and recognition to the wide social dimensions? Can’t we debunk that easily? O.K. so we posit the relativity of natural procreation as a way to be committed to life. Is this an impossible sticking point? It seems the Bishops are willing to listen to approve if it turns out to be for the common good. Couldn’t we even promote among our churches the special practice of pastoral care for those innumerable heteros who are deep in conflict and part of the deterioration of our children’s welfare?
    4) Do we have to even bother with the stereotypes that some wish to use to put our integrity totally in doubt in order to establish a respectable framework for enjoying all the possible benefits that accrue to hetero-marriages?

    The French bishops fairly point out that no deep debate can be had “If every reluctance or questioning of this reform of the law of the family is qualified a priori as “homophobic”. “It’s the same when the request of homosexual persons is disqualified a priori.” So it seems we have from the French bishops a real beginning on those terms of having a real space in the debate. In their conclusion: “An evolution of the law is always possible. But rather than by giving in to the pressure of different groups, France would do honor to itself by looking for an original solution which would do right to the demand for recognition of homosexual persons without however infringing upon the anthropological foundations of society.”


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