Same Sex Unions and the Catholic Church: How Law and Doctrine Evolve

158 Pages Posted: 12 Nov 2016

See all articles by Charles J. Reid

Charles J. Reid

University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)

Date Written: 2016


This Article makes the case for reforming the Catholic Church’s law and teaching on the topic of same-sex unions. It is divided into two large parts. Part I surveys the present state of the Church’s rules governing same-sex relations. It is further subdivided into three subsections: the first examining the formation and reinforcement of the anti-sodomy norm in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; the second reviewing the jurisprudence of the Roman Rota (one of the Vatican’s two supreme appellate tribunals) on homosexuality; the third glancing briefly at more affirming recent statements of Pope Francis and leading Cardinals and bishops. The second part then states the case for reform. It begins by recapitulating the natural-law case against same-sex unions, especially as articulated by Pope John Paul II; it then focuses on personalist philosophy to build a case grounded in human dignity and human rights; it looks to see how arguments grounded on dignity, respect, and human rights were used in legislative and constitutional reform in the United States and in three Catholic countries; and it returns again to natural law. Building on the premise that natural law requires an understanding of nature, the Article reviews the state of the science on same-sex attraction. It closes with a reflection on the many ways the Church has dynamically reinterpreted its normative structure and proposes that reform of the law on same-sex unions would be in keeping with other large historical shifts in the Church’s law and doctrine.

Keywords: Human Rights, Human Dignity, Same-Sex Unions, Catholic Church, Natural Law, Personalism, the Holy Roman Rota, Same-Sex Attraction, Jurisprudence, psychology, neuroscience, Canon Law

Suggested Citation

Reid, Charles J., Same Sex Unions and the Catholic Church: How Law and Doctrine Evolve (2016). U of St. Thomas (Minnesota) Legal Studies Research Paper No. 16-27, Available at SSRN: or

Charles J. Reid (Contact Author)

University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota) ( email )

MSL 400, 1000 La Salle Avenue
Minneapolis, MN Minnesota 55403-2005
United States

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