We do not talk about it enough, but it is happening all over the world. It is legalized same-sex marriage, and the map of Western Europe is interesting — and dismaying — for Catholics.
Iceland, Norway and Sweden allow two people of the same gender to marry under the law. It is no surprise. The Scandinavian states have been socially liberal in the extreme for years. Marriage in the conventional sense, between one man and one woman, is fading away. Catholic before the Reformation, these countries became almost universally Lutheran, by now they are almost totally secularist and even agnostic.
It is greatly disconcerting, however, to see that Belgium, Portugal and Spain, all completely Catholic in history and culture, and still societies in which Catholicism is quite evident, legalize same-sex marriage. Same-sex unions under some guise are permitted in Austria, France and Ireland, each with its own Catholic heritage, but where Catholic religious practice is on the decline.
All of these countries are vibrant democracies, in which legislatures and officials, freely elected by the respective peoples, make the laws. Elected representatives pass the laws, but to take effect, each law must carry the head of state’s signature.
When it comes to marriage, bishops in these countries publicly and clearly have made the Church’s teaching known. The bishops have called upon politicians and lawmakers to heed the Church’s teachings.
Second, in Belgium, Spain, and Portugal, the countries where same-sex marriages are legal, most members of the national legislatures declare themselves to be Roman Catholics.
Third, the heads of state in these nations, King Albert II of Belgium, President Anibal Cavaco Silva of Portugal and King Juan Carlos I of Spain identify themselves as Catholics. The two kings are regarded as practicing Catholics.
Yet, in each country, the head of state, president or king, not only failed to protest the enactment of these laws but instead, by their signatures, made them the laws of their lands.
The spectacle of U.S. politicians who identify themselves as faithful Catholics but support government policies and legislation enabling abortion, same-sex marriage, and other practices offensive to Church teaching outrages many Catholics, and properly so.
It is a problem that occurs outside the United States, and it occurs often and in places where historic Catholic tradition and widespread Catholicism make it all especially shocking.
Sharply criticizing these figures, here or abroad, is easy, and it is not out of order. The particularly bothersome point is that in each of the foreign countries mentioned, as in the United States, the people elect as their representatives the legislators, and in Portugal the president serves by election.
The Belgian and Spanish monarchies are hereditary. But no modern European monarchy these days ultimately can rely on heredity to stay in place. Each depends on public support and public opinion.
Where then are the Catholic voters in Belgium, Portugal and Spain, and here at home, who put these figures in office so that they can legalize same-sex marriage, a provision obviously contrary to Catholic morality, and where are the Catholics in Belgium and Spain who tolerated their respective monarchs’ approval of such statutes?
I find disgusting those political figures who say that they are Catholics but vote for measures clearly defined as immoral by Church doctrine. Try as I may, I cannot get beyond the thought that they are inconsistent — at best and to be polite.
But, none of these politicians seizes a seat in the legislature or as head of state. Where are the Catholic voters?
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV associate publisher.