An Austrian Catholic cardinal who has often been outspoken in defense of lesbian and gay people has criticized his nation’s recent high court decision which allows for same-gender couples to marry.
According to Crux, Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who is also president of the Austrian bishops’ conference reacted to the nation’s Constitutional Court’s December 4th decision by saying:
“If the court denies the uniqueness and special legal status of marriage, built on the diversity of sexes, it denies reality and does no service to society. It also ultimately harms everyone, including those it seeks to protect and who should be protected.”
He also added that the court “lost sight of the special nature of marriage” as an institution for “producing, nurturing and raising children, thus ensuring the succession of generations.”
The court decision came in a case brought by two lesbians who were in a registered domestic partnership who said they were being discriminated against by being denied the ability to marry. According to Deutsche Welle, the court’s decision stated:
“[T]he distinction between marriage and registered partnership … cannot be upheld in this day and age without discriminating against same-sex couples.”
“The resulting discriminatory effect is seen in the fact that through the different title of the family status, people living in same-sex partnerships have to disclose their sexual orientation even in situations in which it is not, and must not be, relevant and … are highly likely to be discriminated against.”
The court’s decision and the cardinal’s reaction highlight an important competition of values. While the cardinal sees the “special nature” of marriage primarily focused around children, the court is more concerned about issues of social justice and equality which a same-gender couple will face in society. This tension between viewing same-gender relationships primarily through the lens of sexuality or primarily as a social justice issue has been at the heart of Catholic marriage equality discussions, and indeed at the heart of many Catholic LGBT conversations.
While it is understandable that the cardinal would be concerned about children, what his argument fails to acknowledge is that allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry in no way harms the institution of heterosexual marriage and the propagation of children. No harm comes to heterosexual couples or their offspring when lesbian and gay couples marry and form families. In fact, many lesbian and gay couples have served as wonderful foster and adoptive parents for children whose heterosexual parents can no longer care for them. So, protecting the legal status of lesbian and gay couples by allowing them access to marriage is actually helping children, not hurting them.
It is somewhat surprising to hear this message from Cardinal Schönborn, who in recent years has been very supportive of lesbian and gay people and their relationships. Just last week, Bondings 2.0 reported his pastoral leadership at a World AIDS Day ecumenical prayer service, in which a drag queen and one of Austria’s leading LGBT activists had significant roles. In our post about that event, we recounted a number of Schonborn’s actions and statements regarding LGBT issues:
“In 2016, he called a close friend’s same-gender relationship ‘an improvement’ as they share a life together, even if it is considered irregular by the church. Speaking at the 2014 Synod on the Family, Schönborn spoke about a same-gender couple that ‘was saintly’ because of their love and care for one another. He has previously expressed support for civil unions, and in 2012 reinstated a gay man to a parish council after the local pastor had rejected him.”
It’s important to point out that this disconnection between Schönborn’s positive attitude towards lesbian and gay people while denigrating legal marriage equality is a trend that is seen in a number of Catholic leaders, including Pope Francis, who for all his positive statements has made a number of public statements against equal marriage. I used to think that church leaders would eventually support sacramental marriage equality after seeing that civil marriage equality produces so many social, personal, and spiritual benefits. I’m beginning to think that the formula needs to be inverted: unless church leaders start to see the sacramental dimension of lesbian and gay committed relationships, they will not be able to support civil marriage equality. The definition they hold of civil marriage is too influenced by their definition of sacramental marriage. Until the sacramental definition changes, their civil definition, unfortunately, will not.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 11, 2017
The Christian Times: “Austria’s top court declares same-sex marriage legal”