(CNSNews.com) - This week's statements by President Bush and the Vatican, critical of homosexual marriage, have re-ignited the debate over morality and fairness. While the Vatican labels political support of same sex unions "gravely immoral," one Baptist minister says religious views about homosexuality are changing in the same way they changed about slavery, women preachers and Galileo's scientific theories.
Dan Avila, associate director for policy and research with the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, defended the Church's position while admitting that it is "counter-cultural."
The Church teaches that marriage, defined as an exclusive and indissoluble union between one man and one woman, is a natural and divinely ordained institution. Same-sex unions are antithetical to this, Avila said.
"The Vatican certainly approaches this from a perspective of 'What is sex for?' and quite clearly, the Catholic Church's position on this is counter-cultural in urging that sex is for the purpose of bringing men and women together and for its pro-creative potential," Avila said.
The Vatican urged Catholics and non-Catholics alike Thursday to oppose efforts to establish same-sex marriage and homosexual adoptions.
The document, "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons," also stated that Catholic politicians should vote against laws granting recognition of homosexual unions.
"There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family," the document stated.
Mary Shivanandan, a professor of theology with the John Paul II Institute in Washington, agreed that marriage was "about engaging in acts that are potentially pro-creative."
"Matrimony," from the Latin - which predates Christianity - comes from the word, "the duty of motherhood," and homosexual acts "are by their very nature not pro-creative, so there is no way that you can equate marriage with what the homosexuals want to call marriage," Shivanandan said.
"The Vatican also stated - and this is very important - that as persons, those who have homosexual orientations must always be respected in their basic humanity. But marriage is incompatible by its very nature with homosexual acts," she added.
In describing homosexual conduct as sinful, the Vatican is reaffirming what had been in the past a unanimous understanding of the significance of sex, Avila said.
"There was at one time unanimity, especially among the religions in the Western world, that sex had a special place in the family and in the creation of new generations and therefore had special responsibilities associated with that," Avila said.
However, "the push for gay marriage or for legitimization of homosexual conduct outside the marital context, outside any context with association to the creation of new generations means that we're moving farther away from what we once understood as the original vision of sexuality," he added.
But supporters of same-sex marriage said the acceptance of homosexuality is taking place in the churches as it is in society.
Baptist Rev. Steven Baines, a senior organizer for religious affairs with People for the American Way, said the views of religious people on same-sex marriage would change as they did with other famously contentious issues. He mentioned slavery, women preachers and Galileo's scientific theories as examples.
"Religious views are the last to change, but they do change over the course of time," Baines said.
Polls have shown that people who consider themselves religious are moving toward greater acceptance of homosexuality. The culture is more accepting of homosexuals, as evidenced by homosexual characters on TV shows and in sports, he said.
Marianne Duddy, executive director of Dignity USA, a homosexual pressure group in the Catholic Church, also said acceptance of homosexuality is growing. "I do believe that our Church is one where the tradition grows and changes and evolves over time, and I expect that we will see changes. They may be slow to come, but they will be," she said.
How to crack the "doctrinal nut" that condemns homosexual behavior is a different issue, Duddy said.
"Not only the gay and lesbian community, but theologians and ethicists are all helping to shape the information that's out there and accessible to Catholics and to bishops and others who are working on this," she said.
"I think that the entire context of how the Church views sexuality in general is an important part of this discussion. As that thinking evolves, how homosexuality is looked at will certainly evolve, but it is all one package," Duddy added.
Homosexuals argue that the debate over same sex unions is also about fairness. "Most Catholics understand that ensuring that same-sex partners have the right to visit each other in the hospital, make health care decisions for an incapacitated partner, and decide where their beloved will be buried is a matter of basic fairness," Duddy said.
"[The Vatican] document widens the gulf between the people of our church and its leadership and runs counter to the Gospel values our faith teaches," she added.
Mark Mead, director of communication with the Log Cabin Republicans, a homosexual pressure group within the GOP, said same-sex couples simply want the same marital rights and obligations as opposite-sex couples, regardless of what the ceremony is called.
"We're not talking about religious ceremonies. We don't in any way think a church, a synagogue or a mosque should be forced to perform these services," he said.
"I do think that the American public has become more accepting of gay and lesbian Americans and realize they're part of the American family and they're not going away, and I think that people who promote family values need to value all families and you don't have to like gay people, but you do need to respect gay people because that's the proper American way," Mead said.
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