Last week, I asked Archbishop Nichols to clarify his views on civil unions: this led the CNA to ask him, too. He spoke: but did we get an answer?

Archbishop Nichols: 'Same-sex partnerships are not marriage because they have no root in a sexual relationship, which marriage does'

I refer you first to an article which appeared last week on the website of the Catholic News Agency, which is based in Rome, and which refers to a piece which I wrote last week – one which it seems led to the CNA telephoning Archbishop Nichols to ask him whether or not he really did support civil unions.

My initial hope that we would now get a straight answer to a straight question was of course dashed: what we actually got was a kind of sideways slither, in which he said that the bishops actually simply accepted the existence of civil unions. But what he had said before was that they were valuable: “We would want to emphasise that civil partnerships actually provide a structure in which people of the same sex who want a lifelong relationship [and] a lifelong partnership can find their place and protection and legal provision… The Church holds great store by the value of commitment in relationships and undertakings that people give…” If that isn’t actual approval, I would like to know what is. Here’s the relevant part of the CNA article:

Catholic commentator William Oddie wrote in the Nov 30 edition of the Catholic Herald that “Archbishop Nichols says he is in favor of gay civil unions: but that legally includes the right to adopt. So why did we lose our adoption agencies?”

“Now we are told, by the chairman of the bishops’ conference, [Archbishop Nichols] that the English Church supports civil unions between homosexual persons, unions which have been given the legal right to adopt children,” Oddie continued.

When Archbishop Nichols was asked by CNA if the bishops of England were contradicting the Vatican’s guidelines, he said that the bishops have tried “to recognize the reality of the legal provision in our country of an agreement, a partnership, with many of the same legal safeguards as in marriage.” He further explained that while the bishops recognise the existence of civil partnerships, they also “believe that that is sufficient”, and that they should not be placed on par with marriage…

“Clearly, respect must be shown to those who in the situation in England use a civil partnership to bring stability to a relationship,” the archbishop said, qualifying that while “equality is very important and there should be no unjust discrimination,” that “commitment plus equality do not equal marriage”.

Archbishop Nichols said the key distinction between civil partnerships and marriage is that the former does not “in law contain a required element of sexual relationships”.

“Same-sex partnerships are not marriage because they have no root in a sexual relationship, which marriage does,” he explained. “And that’s the distinction that I think it’s important for us to understand, that marriage is built on the sexual partnership between a man and a woman which is open to children to their nurture and education.”

So while the bishops of England and Wales “respect the existence of same-sex partnerships in law,” he said, “the point we are at now is to say that they are not the same as marriage.”

There’s one new element in that answer: the preposterous argument that “Same-sex partnerships are not marriage because they have no root in a sexual relationship, which marriage does.” In other words, they’re not like marriage at all. But of course they’re like marriage in one very important respect: that they have as a fundamental defining element that those in such unions have the legal right to adopt children. This isn’t the first time Archbishop Nichols has said he accepts and supports these unions, and has attempted to father his views on the bishops’ conference: in the immediate aftermath of the Pope’s visit, in September of 2010, he claimed that the bishops weren’t against them:

ROME, September 24, 2010 (– A day after the departure of Pope Benedict XVI from Britain, his senior archbishop, the unofficial head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, told a BBC interviewer that the English bishops had purposely refused to oppose (my emphasis) legalizing homosexual civil partnerships. (Download the audio here.)

Attempting to defend the Catholic hierarchy from accusations of being opposed to the homosexualist political agenda around the world, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster hastened to assure the BBC’s Huw Edwards, “That’s not true.”

“In this country, we were very nuanced. We did not oppose gay civil partnerships. We recognized that in English law there might be a case for those. What we persistently said is that these are not the same as marriage.”

But that simply wasn’t, and isn’t, the case. Archbishop Nichols, in a tight corner, and faced by several aggressively secularist interlocutors, was winging it. That fact is that “we” (ie the bishops) never said that “there might be a case for those”. What the bishops actually said in 2003, as I pointed out in my article last week, was that “the government’s proposals to create civil partnerships for same-sex couples would not promote the common good”, because these proposals would in the long term undermine marriage and the family, and that they were “not needed to defend fundamental human rights or remedy significant injustices for same-sex couples, as these have either already been substantially addressed or can largely be addressed by the couple entering into contractual arrangements privately.”

And now we are being told, preposterously, that gay civil unions aren’t based on a sexual relationship, so Catholics don’t have to be opposed to them. If that’s the case, one has to ask, why can’t siblings living together be given the same legal framework of protection? And I repeat, why do partners in a civil union have the right to adopt – (making these unions virtually indistinguishable in law from civil marriage) – a right which the Church everywhere else in the world including here has consistently opposed?

That claim that civil unions aren’t based on sexual relations taking place has a familiar ring to it, however: it is highly reminiscent of the persistent claim by this same Archbishop Nichols that we cannot know that those gay people who communicate at the Soho Masses are sexually active. He also says that those who aver (with very good reason, including the open and repeated avowals of those concerned) that at the Soho Masses those involved in active homosexual relationships do receive Holy Communion, in defiance of the laws of the Church, should “learn to hold their tongue”. And if you doubt that he said that, here he is on YouTube, actually saying it.

To return to civil unions, the fact is that when the bishops said in 2003 that they “would in the long term undermine marriage and the family”, they have very evidently already been proved right. It’s all very well for the archbishop to say that he supports marriage: why then does he also support the gay civil unions which by having virtually all the rights of marriage have undoubtedly weakened the distinctiveness of true marriage and will certainly weaken it further?

I hope that CNA follow up on this story. They are read in Rome; and that’s where this matter should now be taken up.