e-mail us
Europe’s right gives nod to new family forms

NCR Staff

The main umbrella group of conservative political parties in Europe has voted to recognize “new types of families and other forms of life communities.”

For many observers, the resolution amounts to surrender by conservative politicians, who understand that on the issue of legal recognition of non-married couples they have lost the battle in Europe.

The resolution, similar to a plank in the platform of an American political party, recognizes “de facto” couples but stops short of explicitly supporting a legal status for same-sex couples.

Some analysts believe, however, that a similar retreat on recognition of same-sex unions is not far behind.

The European People’s Party, a coalition that includes the most important center-right parties in 15 European nations, adopted the resolution at a mid-January congress in Berlin. In broad terms, the party is analogous to the Republicans in the United States.

In the United States, conservative pro-family groups voiced concern about possible impact on the American debate. And in Europe, Catholic officials expressed alarm that the resolution would further weaken support for traditional families.

“Americans are just beginning to awaken to the same-sex ‘marriage’ debate, due in large part to the surprising events in Vermont,” Amy Desai, a policy analyst for Focus on the Family, told NCR.

In Vermont, the Supreme Court held in December 1999 that homosexual couples are entitled to “the common benefits and protections that flow from marriage under Vermont law.” In July, the legislature created a system of civil registration for same-sex couples, and since then some 1,000 couples have obtained licenses to hold ceremonies before a minister or a judge. Some 75 percent of those couples are from outside Vermont.

Among Catholic officials voicing opposition to the European development, Bishop Girolama Grillo of Civitavecchia in Italy said he hopes “Italian parties inspired by Catholic values will demonstrate absolute firmness in defense of Christian principles of the family.”

Sociologists generally recognize Western Europe as the region of the world where governments have taken the most aggressive steps toward recognizing new models of family life (NCR, Jan. 5).

Virtually every European government provides some form of civil registration for these couples so they may share benefits, tax status and other matters traditionally associated with marriage. Ten governments include same-sex couples in these arrangements.

The resolution’s wording was a compromise between Northern European conservatives, typically libertarian on social matters, and right-wingers from Southern Europe influenced by the Catholic church.

The former wanted a more sweeping recognition of alternative family structures while the latter were opposed to any acknowledgment of nontraditional families.

In the end, the resolution asserts that “families where fathers and mothers take responsibility for their children are the foundation of our society,” but does not specifically rule out a legal status for homosexual relationships.

“We believe that Europe’s activities are not determinative of what America does, but they will certainly add to the pressure to alter marriage here,” Desai said.

The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is jallen@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, February 2, 2001