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Notre Dame is confused

October 20, 2014

The University of Notre Dame has decided “to extend benefits to all legally married persons, including same-sex spouses….” Renowned Notre Dame law professor Gerry Bradley has set out the civil law options Notre Dame could have pursued and Bp. Kevin Rhoades has put the university on notice that their decision does not seem commensurate with the duties Catholic institutions owe to Catholic (not to mention natural law) truths. Here I address just one aspect of the issue, namely, Notre Dame’s confusing “all legally married persons” with “same-sex spouses”.

Within the pool of persons dubbed “legally married”, nearly all such unions—whether involving Catholics, baptized Christians, or non-baptized persons—would be recognized by the Church (and by natural law) as being presumptively true (if not always sacramental) marriages. As a matter of principle, then, such unions can be treated as marriages by Notre Dame. Even in regard to persons divorced from first spouses and living in second unions, it is possible that such unions might be true marriages (although that status is not immediately recognizable by canon or natural law and, among Catholics, results in obstacles to reception of certain sacraments). Still, as a matter of prudence, Notre Dame could, especially in the absence of information not likely to be accessible to employers, regard such unions as marriages.

But in regard to so-called “same-sex marriage” there is no possibility that such a union could ever be marriage, not under Church teaching, and not by natural law, and therefore, there is no argument by which Notre Dame could regard such unions as marriage. Notre Dame’s treatment of “same-sex marriage” as being included among “legally married persons” is categorically flawed and any policy, to the extent it relies on that confusion, is necessarily vitiated.

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