Archbishop Diarmuid Martin: ‘I encourage everyone to vote and to reflect carefully’

‘My position is that of Pope Francis, who . . . made it very clear that he was against legalising same-sex marriage, yet he was consistent in telling people not to make judgments on any individual’

I was initially reluctant to accept an invitation from The Irish Times to comment further on Friday's marriage referendum. I do not wish the debate to be seen as predominantly a religious issue or just as a Church-State debate.

As a bishop I have strong views on marriage based on my religious convictions. I have, however, no wish to stuff my religious views down other people’s throats, but I also have a right to express my views in the reasoned language of social ethics. In airing my views in public debate, I do not expect to be listened to on the basis of dogmatic utterance, but on the reasonableness of my argument.

I write then primarily as a citizen of Ireland. I have no affiliation with any group of No campaigners. Some such groups will quote me, but I know how short-lived such affirmation can be. I have said that I intend to vote No, yet there are those of the ecclesiastical right-wing who accuse me of being in favour of a Yes vote, since I do not engage in direct condemnation of gay and lesbian men and women.

My position is that of Pope Francis, who, in the debates around same-sex marriage in Argentina, made it very clear that he was against legalising same-sex marriage, yet he was consistent in telling people not to make judgments on any individual. I know the manner with which the Irish Church treated gay and lesbian people in the past – and in some cases still today – and that fact cannot be overlooked.


Reasoned argument may not always appeal in a cultural climate where the quick answer is the one which can easily win the day. But reasoned argument is vital in society. Reasoned argument deserves reasoned response and not just soundbites.

Good parents

Reasoned argument requires that both sides are heard for what they are really saying. A reasoned No vote is not homophobic. A reasoned No vote does not deny that gay and lesbian people can be good parents, just as heterosexual people can be bad parents. Single parents deserve recognition and support as they are in fact among the most neglected and isolated men and women in our society. They have often been left to struggle on their own by successive governments – and by the Church – which failed to recognise the contribution that they bring to society.

There are many types of family in our society: some good, some worrying. All of this does not mean that we cannot and should not rationally discuss fundamental arguments on the nature of marriage and the family.

Marriage is about love, marriage is about commitment and marriage is about family. You cannot talk of family without talking about children. This does not mean that childless marriages are not marriages. Marriage cannot, however, be detached from the family. The family is much broader than just what I would like my marriage relationship to be.

Marriage is fundamentally an intergenerational reality. The bonds of intergenerational affection in Ireland are indeed remarkably strong. More importantly, the ongoing stability of society is linked with our intergenerational genetic makeup. Knowing our genetic make-up is important.

Marriage, family, children and society fundamentally form one reality and cannot be torn apart. There are few places where this reality is so self-evident as in Article 41 of our Constitution on “The Family”. Take time to read it in its entirety.

In a society where individual personal fulfilment can become so dominant, every other argument can be laid to the side and we can come to the conclusion that there are so many concrete manifestations of family that it is no longer even possible to speak of family.

Unique complementarity

Marriage is not simply about a wedding ceremony or about two people being in love with each other. For me the fundamental question in the debate on the marriage referendum is: why do humans exist as male and female? It is not an accident or a social construct. There is a unique complementarity between men and women, male and female, rooted in the very nature of our humanity. I believe that this complementarity belongs to the fundamental definition of marriage. The vast majority of states in Europe and worldwide interpret marriage in that sense.

Special relevance

The proposed text of the amendment on marriage purports to provide a gender-neutral definition of marriage. That text, however, would in fact, if accepted, stand alongside references in the Constitution which attribute special relevance to mothers and women. These references would remain with constitutional authority, leaving a Constitution which would be speaking out of two different sides of its mouth. That would hardly be marriage equality.

No one can predict today how a changed Constitution would be interpreted by the courts. Legal opinion can reflect on what may or may not be subject to interpretation. That is fair comment as long as the “may” and “might” and “could” remain. But some politicians have been moving from that careful and subtle legal speculation into direct fortune-telling about interpretation and then promising what legislation will be introduced after the referendum. Promises may be fulfilled or not fulfilled. What will happen, however, will be determined exclusively by the courts and we know from past experience that test cases can produce unexpected results.

I have never told people how to vote. I encourage everyone to vote and to reflect carefully. Reasoned argument on marriage and the family is vital for our society. Diarmuid Martin is Catholic Archbishop of Dublin