Around the world, bishops confront new same-sex marriage laws

Elise Ann Allen
|Senior Correspondent
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ROME – As governments around the world are pushing to legalize same-sex marriage or at least legislation favoring homosexual couples, the bishops in those countries have been vocal in advocating for the Catholic Church’s position that marriage is between a man and a woman.

From Chile, to Hungary, to Japan, debate over the issue has intensified, and, in some instances, recent steps have been taken to legalize same-sex marriage.

Chile

After nearly a four-year debate, Chilean parliament Monday approved the legalization of same-sex marriage, with the Senate voting 21-8 in favor, and the Chamber of Deputies 82-20 in support of the legislation.

While civil unions between members of the same sex have been recognized in Chile since 2015, the new law, which will go into force in 90 days, not only legalizes same-sex marriage, but it also legalizes adoption for same-sex couples.

It also regulates the assets of same-sex couples, guarantees pensions for widows and widowers in same-sex marriages, and recognizes the weddings of same-sex couples married abroad.

Monday’s vote makes Chile the ninth country in the Americas to legalize same-sex marriage, after Canada, the United States, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. It is not yet legal in Mexico, but it is recognized in 14 of the country’s 32 states.

Although the Chilean bishops have not yet issued a statement in response to the vote, they are expected to make to do so next week when members of the Permanent Council meet.

However, Chilean Cardinal Celestino Aós Braco, archbishop of Santiago and president of the Chilean bishops’ conference, made a reference to the law in his homily for the Dec. 8 feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Speaking of the need for co-responsibility in the situations that arise in everyday life, Aós said that “In our circumstances, dialogue and fidelity are asked of us.”

“The laws matter, but it matters more that we revise our own options and our relationships within marriage and the family so that they are Christian marriages and families,” he said, adding that this, “takes tenderness, delicacy, courtesy, and respect.”

Hungary

In Hungary, debate has flared up in recent months surrounding the country’s law barring same-sex marriages, prompting a response from the country’s Christian and Jewish leaders.

In 2020, the country’s government, led by rightwing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, with the aim of promoting “family values” banned adoption by same-sex couples and barred transgender individuals from changing their legal gender, and refused to ratify the Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe treaty on violence against women which critics say advances a transgender agenda.

Earlier this year, Hungary passed another law equating homosexuality to pedophilia and which bans the “promotion and portrayal of homosexuality” to minors in sex education, films, or advertisements.

Hungary has been criticized by European watchdog groups for its strict laws, and for altering the definition of families in the country’s constitution in 2020 to omit transgender and homosexual individuals, and debate over its policies has become increasingly heated.

In response, the country’s Christian and Jewish leaders issued a joint statement Dec. 9 reiterating support for the defense of marriage as between a man and a woman, and the traditional Judeo-Christian values surrounding marriage, family, and human dignity.

The statement, published Thursday, opens with a quote from the biblical book of Genesis, which says, “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth.’”

Pope Francis during his visit to Budapest in September “emphasized again the biblical position that the sacrament of marriage is realized between a man and a woman,” the religious leaders said, adding, “The consecration of the relationship between man and woman through marriage is the foundation of human dignity in the Jewish tradition as well.”

“In preparation for Christmas, in the light of the Hanukkah candles, and in response to the social debate growing recently, we, the undersigned representatives of the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Churches and Jewish communities, hereby reaffirm the importance of the Jewish and Christian values of marriage, family and human dignity,” they said.

The statement was signed by the Hungarian Catholic Bishops’ Conference; the Reformed, Evangelical, Baptist, Pentecostal, and Methodist Churches; the Serbian, Bulgarian, Romanian, and Russian Orthodox dioceses; the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople; the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, and the Association of United Hungarian Jewish Congregation.

Japan

In Asia, Japan is also taking steps toward the legalization of same-sex marriage as the Tokyo metropolitan government develops plans to implement a new system allowing same-sex marriages in the Japanese capital as of April 2022.

According to Japan’s Kyodo news wire, the government of Tokyo, a city of 14 million, plans to introduce a “same-sex partnership” status after its recent local assembly unanimously asked for such a measure to be adopted.

Same-sex couples have already been recognized by a number of local wards and municipalities in Tokyo, but the new measure would give homosexual couples the same rights as heterosexual couples.

In March, an initial step in this direction was taken when a local court in Sapporo, Japan ruled that denying same-sex couples the right to marry was “unconstitutional,” marking the first judicial ruling on the issue in Japan.

Homosexuality in Japan has been legal since 1880 and is widely considered to be among the more liberal Asian nations when it comes to same-sex relationships. Currently, the only Asian nation to legalize same-sex marriage is Taiwan.

Japan’s bishops, including Tokyo Archbishop Tarcisius Isao Kikuchi, have yet to make a statement about the proposal for same-sex partnerships, however, they defended the Church’s position in a statement last year.

Following the release last October of the controversial Francesco documentary by gay Russian Jewish filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky, which caused a media firestorm over the inclusion of portions of a previous interview Pope Francis had given to a Mexican television statement spliced together to imply he supported same-sex civil unions, Japan’s bishops responded to the confusion by reiterating Church teaching.

RELATED: Vatican hosts screening of film that invented papal soundbite on civil unions

In their November 2020 statement, Japan’s bishops noted that in the heavily edited 20-second segment in question, the pope “points out that within the family no one should be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Pope Francis, they said, “has always been consistent with his attitude towards issues like refraining from judging people by sexual orientation or gender identity and reflecting deeply on the Church’s judgmental attitude towards homosexuals.”

“Likewise, the church is opposed to discrimination against any person in the church community on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” they said, insisting that the Church’s position on marriage as between a man and a woman has not changed.

In March, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in response to a formal inquiry ruled that the Catholic Church, while desiring to be welcoming to homosexual individuals, could not give “blessings” for same-sex unions, which it said were “not legitimate” and “not ordered to the Creator’s plan.”

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

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