Catholic bishops to campaign against proposal

Decision historic and landmark, says chairman of gay equality network

While the announcement of a referendum of same-sex marriage was welcomed by gender rights campaigners, the Irish Catholic Bishops said the church would be be mounting a campaign of opposition.

“The debate at the heart of the referendum announced by the Government is not about equality,” said Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin Denis Nulty said, in a statement on behalf of the bishops. “It is about the very nature of marriage itself and the importance society places on the role of mothers and fathers in bringing up children.”

Marriage Equality chairwoman Gráinne Healy yesterday said the importance of cross-party support for the referendum could “not be underestimated”.

“It has been seen [in other jurisdictions] as a brave move and a leadership move – and leadership is something that we really require in Ireland at the moment,” she said.


Speaking before Taoiseach Enda Kenny had outlined his position on the referendum, she said: “I would be hopeful he himself would feel he is able to speak on the issue. I’m also particularly interested in Fine Gael being able to say they are supporting this referendum.”

Gay and Lesbian Equality Network chairman Kieran Rose said yesterday’s decision by the Government was “landmark” and ”historic” in the context of the evolution of gay rights in Ireland.

Minority group
Equality Authority chief executive Renee Dempsey said it was important the wording of the referendum be chosen carefully. "It is important the referendum does not place a minority group in the position where they must ask permission of their peers to marry the person of their choice," she said.

Irish Council for Civil Liberties director Mark Kelly said he had “absolutely no compunction” in calling for Mr Kenny to declare his support for the referendum.

“This is a moment for the Taoiseach and the leader of the Government to show leadership,” he said. “He should say clearly that he’s calling on everybody to vote for equality.”

In his statement, however, Bishop Nulty said: “The church regards the family based on marriage between a woman and a man as the single most important institution in any society. To change the nature of marriage would be to undermine it as the fundamental building block of our society.

“The church will therefore participate fully in the democratic debate leading up to the referendum and will seek with others to reaffirm the rational basis for holding that marriage should be reserved for the unique and complementary relationship between a woman and a man from which the generation and upbringing of children is uniquely possible.”

David Quinn, the director of the Iona Institute, which is a Catholic lobby group, said any party that supports the referendum would be "attacking the natural rights of children".

“It is no breach of the equality principle to treat different situations differently,” he said. “The sexual union of a man and a woman is unique and warrants a unique social institution . . . It now seems clear that virtually all of the political parties in Ireland are prepared to radically change for the worse the most important child-centred social institution we have.

“They no longer see any reason why we should have a social institution dedicated above all to encouraging men and women to raise their children together.

“To this extent, they are attacking the natural rights of children.”

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter