Austrian Cardinal Criticizes Court’s Legalization of Marriage Equality

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.

Austria’s Constitutional Court

According to CruxVienna’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.”

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn

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

Related article:

The Christian Times:  “Austria’s top court declares same-sex marriage legal”


5 replies
  1. Richard Boyle
    Richard Boyle says:

    I’m of the opinion that the Church, on the subject of sexuality, is all “doublespeak.” Change? Well, not in my lifetime. I have given up that hope and have “moved on.” I know that I am not alone…

  2. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    This story illustrates the problem of having a clergy that can’t marry. If you have never been in a loving relationship (homosexual or straight) and make your life among similarly isolated individuals, how can you understand that children aren’t the primary focus of a couple. Yes procreation is very important, but a couple must first love one another “forsaking all others” . Single life outside marriage is a good and blessed option, but it should be a free choice. If marriage is such a good thing, why should the Church want to forbid it out of hand to homosexuals or clergy Isn’t it the sin of greed to deny such a blessing? Spread the love sounds more like Christ’s message.

  3. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    It just occurred to me that the vast majority of legislators and judges who have voted for/ruled for marriage equality are either straight, married people, or lesbian or gay partnered people. Yet a group of unmarried men assert that they are experts on what marriage is. Hmm. Seems similar to saying I am an expert on rockets because I have seen movies of them, and have read the Bible; but rocket scientists are not, because they don’t speak for God.

  4. Friends
    Friends says:

    @ Tom and John (ref. above comments): BANG ON! You’ve nailed the core of the problem perfectly. Isn’t it interesting that Christian clergy in most other major denominations — notably Anglicans, Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Lutherans, and others — do not exhibit the Catholic clergy’s somewhat paranoid (bordering on hysterical) antagonism toward faithfully-bonded same-sex relationships? It speaks volumes about where far too many forcibly-celibate Catholic priests are trapped, in what any reasonable person would deem to be a completely unnatural life situation. And the supreme irony is that married men accepted into the Catholic priesthood — after choosing to convert from their existing clerical status as married ministers within another denomination — are not forced to renounce their marriages when they become Catholic priests. How utterly crazy is this whole situation, anyway? It makes absolutely no sense. I believe the Pope himself has the authority to fix the dysfunction with an official decree. Why won’t he?


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