Marriage referendum: no threat to the Church

Suggestions that the rights of children will be damaged if it is passed amount to crude scaremongering


The condemnatory language used by Catholic bishops about gay and lesbian people has been moderated in recent years. No longer is the term “intrinsically disordered” used to describe their sexuality. Pope Francis has spoken of the need to be more compassionate. But when the rhetoric is stripped away, the message is stark: the Vatican will never bless same-sex marriages nor recognise their validity. That, however, is its right.

A referendum to allow gay couples to marry will be held on May 22nd. Two years ago, following informed discussion and respectful debate, 79 per cent of delegates to the Constitutional Convention recommended such change, while emphasising a need for amending legislation in the areas of parentage, guardianship and children’s rights. Those safeguarding measures are being put in place.

Conflict between the primacy of civil and canon law has emerged in recent years, especially involving the treatment of religious. The balance shifted in favour of the State and the sky has not fallen. Society is better for it. Allowing for same-sex civil marriage will not negate church teaching nor impinge on the functions of priests who will not be obliged to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. It will, however, extend important civil and legal rights to citizens who continue to experience arbitrary discrimination.

Suggestions that the rights of children will be damaged if the referendum is passed amount to crude scaremongering. Change is difficult to accept. Less than 25 years ago, homosexual acts were criminalized. Since then, the stigma has lost much of its potency and there is a growing acceptance of LGBT individuals.

Some priests have broken ranks to promote respect for the freedom of those who differ from them in belief. That is to be welcomed. This referendum, as Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin observed, is about equality and whether gay relationships should be offered the same security and respect as those in heterosexual relationships. It is as simple and uncomplicated as that.