|For at least a decade, Catholic
Church officials in Rome have been attacking decisions by
government leaders in many nations as they have given various
rights to unmarried couples. Church officials claim that
such recognition is undermining the "family."
Just last week Church leaders
leveled two attacks -- one against officials in the Italian city
of Padua and the other against the Italian national government.
The Padua city council was
criticized because it voted to allow unmarried couples, whether
same-sex or opposite-sex, to register as "a family" and thereby
gain certain rights and benefits.
national level, majority leaders in the Senate called on the
government to draft legislation to provide unmarried couples,
including gays and lesbians, many of the rights and benefits
afforded to married couples.
Responding to these two actions,
L'Osservatore Romano -- the official Vatican newspaper --
published a front-page editorial entitled:
2006: Eradicating the family is the priority of Italian
politicians quickly responded to the Vatican's attacks.
"This does not negate the family
in any way," Massimo D'Alema, Italian Minister of Foreign
Affairs, stated in an official release. "The rights of
Italians, women and men, who live together and have children . .
. must be recognized even if they do not intend to get married."
"The Vatican has
to get it into its head that what constitutes a family is
decided by the members of that family and not by the Vatican,"
Parliament member Franco Grillini told
Reuters in support of
the action of the Padua city council.
right. History and tradition support a broad and inclusive
definition of "family" which goes beyond relationships based on
blood ties or marriage bonds.
"family" is derived from the Latin term "familia." The
primary meaning of "familia" is grounded in household-based
Webster dictionary has 23 entries for the word "family."
The first definition says family is "a group of individuals
living under one roof and usually under one head."
Catholic Encyclopedia acknowledges that the primary origin of
"family" is the word "familia" which refers to "the household."
Hughes, author of "Family versus Familia, Historical Definitions
of the Family" has written that "our
modern usage of the word family as a unit of relatives is
Hughes has a
journalism degree from Brigham Young University where she
specialized in Family History.
"It was not
until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that family began
to connote the intimacy of a nuclear family," she explains.
"Historically, the Latin term familia meant household"
that the Vatican must be lectured on the meaning of a Latin
term. It seems that Church officials have had a convenient
lapse of memory.
leaders in the United States have sometimes taken a more open
and honest view of the meaning of "family" by recognizing that
household members functioning as a family should be treated by
the government as a family.
In the 1980s,
a group of nuns in Florida were living together in an old
mansion in a residential neighborhood. Local officials
threatened to evict them because the area was zoned for "single
family" use only.
Catholic Bishop sued the city and argued that the household of
the nuns did not violate the zoning ordinance. The
appellate court agreed.
example arose in San Francisco in the 1990s when the city passed
a law requiring all city contractors to provide domestic partner
benefits to their employees or have city funds terminated.
Catholic Charities was then receiving more than $4 million from
the city to help run its services for the needy.
William Levada found himself in a bind. Since the term
"domestic partners" implied a sexual relationship, he was not
comfortable with Catholic Charities giving benefits to domestic
partners. But he also did not want to lose $4 million a
year in city funds.
clever response was to provide "household" benefits instead of
"domestic partner" benefits, allowing employees of the charity
to designate one adult in their household to receive employment
benefits. An employee could choose a spouse, a partner, or
a relative living in his or her household.
Levada, now a
Cardinal, currently works in the Vatican. He is the
Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Cardinal Levada should remind his colleagues in Rome that "familia"
is based on household relationships and not spousal status.
The Church should have no objections to benefits programs which
recognize the household-based foundation of the term "family."
Unmarried America 2006
Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an
attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family
diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.
Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried
firstname.lastname@example.org. Unmarried America is a nonprofit
information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and