Catholic Church risks being the biggest loser over civil marriage
Published 05/05/2015 | 02:30
Many Irish people have French holiday memories of the young bride and groom happily flitting from the town hall to church as they undergo two wedding ceremonies.
But that happy image belies a gut struggle between church and state that has marked French society at many levels. Irish bishops and government ministers are nowhere near getting stuck into that kind of conflict.
But things are getting tetchy as polling day in the same-sex marriage referendum looms into view. Already, all churches have been guaranteed a conscience clause obviating any suggestion that they must offer wedding ceremonies for gay couples.
But there was considerable surprise in mid-April when the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Dr Eamon Martin, first raised the prospect of the Catholic Church withdrawing from the time-honoured system of one-ceremony marriage combining the civil and religious elements.
Six out of 10 Irish people who married last year went the religious route. If Dr Martin's suggested course of action came to pass, they would have to go elsewhere to get married in the eyes of the State, and deal with all potential implications for tax, welfare and inheritance.
In this increasingly secular Ireland, how many people would opt not to bother with the church ceremony? That is a question for internal Catholic Church discussion - assuming a 'Yes' vote on May 22.
The power of civil marriage has long been granted to all mainstream churches in the Irish State. It has little to do with much-talked-about close links between government leaders and bishops. It dates to middle of the 19th century and the British regime.
But whatever its origins, it does give all churches involved a deal of privilege and power positioning.
Few would want to give it up too readily.