For those of us in countries where the marriage equality debate has been ongoing for several years, it may seem that we have already heard the most outrageous comments opposing such measures. And, sadly, those comments often come from Catholic officials. We may have also thought we have heard some of the most insightful pro-marriage arguments, but it seems there are still more to be made.
The debate in Ireland over marriage equality, which is to be put to a national referendum on May 19th, has recently fostered a bishop’s comment which bewilders logic. At the same time, a Catholic lay spokesperson has argued eloquently in favor of the measure.
Bishop Kevin Doran of the Diocese of Elphin recently offered that gay and lesbian people are already allowed to legally marry–just not each other. In a talk at a parish, Doran went through a list of rhetorical questions about lesbian/gay people and marriage, ending with:
“Can people of homosexual orientation marry?
“This is quite interesting, because most people would probably say that they cannot legally do so. But, of course there is no legal obstacle to a person of homosexual orientation getting married, just as a heterosexual person can.
“To that extent the question of marriage equality simply doesn’t arise. (Whether it is good or just or wise for a homosexual person to enter marriage is another question.)”
Doran’s point is a silly one, which reflects poorly on him, and does not substantially add to the discussion. The sad part of his statements is that their silliness overshadows a number of positive things that he said leading up to those remarks. Discussing Catholic approaches to lesbian and gay people, he said:
“A. Can we recognise the fundamental goodness of people who are of homosexual orientation? Yes.
“B. Do we believe that they are loved by God? Yes.
“C. And that they are equal in dignity to every other person? Yes.
“D. Can they be actively involved in the life of the Church? Yes.
“E. Can friendships between people of the same sex be good, even if they are sexually attracted to one another? Yes, of course.
“While marriage is the ‘primary and most unique friendship’, there are many other kinds of friendship which are blessed by God. Friendship is an aspect of love, and love is the path to holiness.
“This of course applies equally to those who are homosexual in orientation as it does to those who are heterosexual.
“F. Can people of homosexual orientation receive the Eucharist? Yes, on exactly the same basis as heterosexual people, who are likewise called to the virtue of chastity.
“G. Can we engage with them in pastoral care for the family? Yes, of course.”
While the Irish bishops oppose marriage equality, other Irish church leaders and the Irish Catholic lay people are very much in support of it. The Irish Times reported on a recent statement from a coalition of religious organizations, including two Catholic lay groups, We Are Church Ireland and Gay Catholic Voice Ireland. One leader was quoted in the story:
“Brendan Butler, of We Are Church Ireland, said the Catholic Church’s opposition to marriage equality was the view of ‘the hierarchical church. We are representing a huge squad of ordinary Catholics. We have people in our group who are gay people as well as mothers and grandmothers of gay people. They are appalled at the attitude of the church.’ “
Butler recently penned an op-ed for The Irish Times in support of marriage equality, and he argued:
“Jesus of Nazareth challenged the skewed values and injustices of the religious and political elites of his day and their exploitation and marginalisation of their people.
“We as followers of Jesus must also challenge the injustices of our Church and society.
“This Kingdom of God is not confined to the Church but to the creation of a more just society in which all people are valued as equals.
“This is a vision which We are Church Ireland proclaims. We wish and work for a society where a person’s sexual orientation is not a cause of discrimination or prejudice.
“When it comes to marriage, Christians do not have the ownership of the institution and should invite gay, lesbian and transgender people to share in the joys of marriage if they so wish.
“As a result of a yes vote in the referendum we will have a more just and inclusive society befitting the dignity of all people.”
PinkNews.co.uk recently reported that polls show strong support for marriage equality among the Irish population:
It recently emerged that one in five voters are still undecided about how they will vote in the referendum in May. The poll found that while 62 percent were in favour with 16 percent opposed, 22 percent of voters are still unsure/didn’t know how they would vote on the issue.
In such a heavily and traditionally Catholic nation, the results of this referendum will be significant for Catholic politics. Una Mullaly, writing in The Guardian, noted:
“To get this far is nothing short of a phenomenal achievement. Homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1993; the Civil Partnership Act passed in 2010. The dedication of LGBT rights groups has changed hearts and minds. And now, Ireland is staging a referendum that enjoys support from all major political parties and the majority of the public, something unimaginable just a decade ago. . . .
The world will be watching Ireland in the lead-up to May’s referendum. If the Irish electorate seizes this opportunity, it won’t just be a local victory, it could be the watershed moment the global movement for marriage equality has been waiting for.”
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry