The Catholic Church and civil marriage
Published 05/05/2015 | 02:30
Archbishop Eamon Martin has made a second important intervention in the same-sex marriage referendum. With voting now just 17 days away, it is worth pondering the message from the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland.
Dr Martin has insisted that the issue must not be reduced to one of Church versus State. He has also notably avoided advising Church members on how they should vote on May 22. He has chosen instead to say that the Church does not favour extending marriage to people of the same gender, and urged Catholics to reflect on their decision, and to be sure to vote on the day in line with their duty as citizens.
The Archbishop of Armagh has again stressed that people are entitled to argue and vote against same-sex marriage without being open to accusations of intolerance or homophobia. We again endorse that viewpoint and insist that it is worth repeating frequently.
But the Archbishop is on more contentious ground when he raises three other issues. The first is the question of how Catholic schools can teach about marriage if voters endorse same-sex marriage. The second is how they can continue to teach sex education if the State appears to be accepting homosexual relations as "a social good".
It is right to raise such issues at this stage. But already the law, and society generally, accepts many things which are at odds with Catholic Church teaching. Divorce, permitted in Irish law and prohibited by the Church, is a clear example here.
With tolerance and goodwill, such matters can be dealt with in the future also. Same-sex marriage need not cause disruption to our education system.
The third issue raised by Dr Martin is that the bishops may have to consider whether the Church can continue to offer the civil element of marriage ceremonies in churches in the event of a 'Yes' win on May 22. Such a change would end generations of practise whereby couples married religiously and civilly under one roof and in one ceremony.
It is extremely questionable whether such a move by the Catholic Church would be beneficial for themselves and society at large.