This article appears in the November 2003 edition of the Catholic Medical Quarterly

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Legislation or Tolerance

Homosexual Unions

The proposals to legalise homosexual unions favour giving them the legal equivalence to marriage, along with the legal possibility of adopting children. At other times they are sanctioned under the pretext of avoiding, with regard to certain rights, discrimination against persons who live with someone of the same sex. Tolerance, on the other hand, without explicit legal recognition, provides a testimony to the solid moral reality, which is contradicted by approval of homosexual acts and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons. This route adopts the role of stating clearly the immoral nature of these unions and reminds the government of the need to contain the phenomenon within certain limits in order to safeguard public morality. Above all it avoids exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage. For without doubt legislation is a direct attack on the dignity of marriage, the foundation of the family, the main component in the stability of society. Homosexual acts go against the natural law and `close the sexual act to the gift of life'. A move from tolerance to the legitimisation of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons would enshrine the approval of evil - which is radically different from its toleration. The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, in its recent submission, points out quite clearly that civil law is legitimate only in so far as it conforms to natural, moral law and respects the inalienable rights of every person. Given the values at stake in this issue, the state cannot grant legal standing to such unions without failing in its duty to promote and protect marriage as an institution essential to the common good. It might be asked how can a law be contrary to the common good if it does not impose any particular kind of behaviour, but simply gives legal recognition to a de facto reality which doesn't seem to cause injustice to anyone. There is an immense difference between behaviour as a private phenomenon and the same relationship in society, to the point where it becomes a practice in the legal structure. Homosexual unions are totally lacking in the biological and anthropological basis of marriage. The possibility of using recently discovered techniques of artificial reproduction, beyond involving a grave lack of respect for human dignity, does nothing to alter this inadequacy. The adoption of children places obstacles in their normal development, deprived as they would be of the experience of either fatherhood or motherhood. It could well be regarded as actually doing violence to them, as hindering their normal process of maturity and contrary to the principles recognised in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. They, it will be remembered, stipulate that the best interests of the child, as the weaker and more vulnerable party, are to be the paramount consideration in every instance. Nor can the principle of the autonomy of the individual be invoked. Activities which do not represent a significant or positive contribution to the development of the human person can hardly receive specific and categorical legal recognition by the state.

It is forgotten nowadays that homosexuality was diagnosed and treated as a psychiatric illness - sexual deviation - until 1973, when it was removed from the American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in Psychiatry. The Psychiatric Association, responding to pressure from homosexual activist groups, recommended the elimination of the category `homosexuality' in favour of `sexual orientation disturbance' This latter group would of course include those who are trying to lead chaste lives and resist homosexual disturbances. And it should be remembered that the Anglican Church, so torn at present by this issue, stated in 1988 that sexual activity by homosexual people is not morally equivalent to such activity by heterosexual people. `It is morally flawed, the statement went on to say, avoiding the word sinful `to such an extent that those who engage in it should not, for instance, be accepted for ordination'. Are homosexuals by nature more prone to psychological problems? This question was asked by Pravin Thevathasan in the CMQ (February 2000). In a paper entitled Homosexuality and Psychiatry he presented a masterly review of the available evidence. The best came from large scale studies by Weinberg (1974) and Bell (1978) from the Kinsey Institute. They found a higher incidence of loneliness, lower self-acceptance and more depression and suicidal ideas in their male and female homosexuals than in heterosexual controls. He pointed out that the one truly tragic statistic, secondary to the fact that a number of physical diseases are linked to homosexual activity, is that the average male homosexual in the United States will be dead before he reaches the age of 45. A more recent study in Australia, a community survey of 4824 adults, highlighting the symptoms of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideas and alcohol misuse, found that the bisexual group experienced the worst mental health, but the homosexual group reported more mental distress.' In The Guardian (September 25, 2003) Sophie Arie wrote that Europe may follow the Netherlands in giving same sex couples the same rights as homosexuals. Same sex couples have been tying the knot in their thousands in the Netherlands for more than two years, but until now, if they travelled around the rest of Europe, suddenly their marriages were on shaky ground. Denmark, France and Germany allow �civil unions� that provide many of the same rights as marriage but are easier to dissolve. But in more conservative countries like Italy and Greece, same sex unions are still something of a taboo; no provision is made for couples arriving from the more liberal north. Consequently in September EU ministers endorsed a proposed set of rules ensuring that same sex married couples from the Netherlands and Belgium - the only countries where such unions are legal - are recognised across the EU. The rules have not yet been ratified by the EU parliament.

In the two years since gay marriage legislation was approved in the Netherlands, around 4,000`marriages' have been registered; but among those the first divorces have begun to emerge. There is a great bottle neck apparently for those who have waited to make their union official so that many now prefer to live together without getting married. Not everyone believes marriage is the best option.

1. Br. Journal of Psychiatry, 2002, 180,423-427.