Government refuses to respect 'No' side in marriage debate

Archbishop McQuaid and Taoiseach Eamon de Valera in 1940. The State was once accused of aligning itself too closely to the Catholic Church – its devotion to the ‘Yes’ vote displays a similar ideological dogmatism

David Quinn

The Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Eamon Martin, has said that if we legalise same-sex marriage on May 22 the Catholic Church may stop recognising religious marriages as civil marriages as well. This would mean couples would have to have their religious marriages separately recognised by the State as civil marriages also.

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this course of action. Lots of people - many of them 'No' voters - will continue to get married in churches if we pass same-sex marriage and why should they be put to the bother of having to have their religious marriage separately recognised by the State?

On the other hand, the State's understanding of marriage would then be so different from the Church's understanding that not acting as agents of the State on the civil registration side would be a way of making clear that the two understandings of marriage were now poles apart.

Also, there is a school of thought which says that acting as an agent of the State in recognising a religious marriage as a civil marriage might leave the Church open to legal action by same-sex couples demanding the 'right' to get married in a church.

It's true that the new marriage law to be introduced if we vote in same-sex marriage guarantees that clergy will not have to officiate at same-sex weddings. But a statute law can be rescinded by any Government virtually overnight.

Then it would be a matter of a court balancing the constitutional right of a same-sex couple to have a civil marriage wherever civil marriages are recognised, including in a church, versus the religious freedom guarantees in the Constitution.

As it is, in Denmark the Lutheran Church must perform same-sex marriages by order of the State. The Lutheran Church in Denmark is a State Church admittedly, but today it's a State Church and tomorrow it could be every Church.

In the UK, the Drewitt-Barlows, a wealthy gay couple, have launched a legal action aimed at forcing churches to officiate at same-sex weddings.

Barrie Drewitt-Barlow has said: "I want to go into my church and marry my husband … The only way forward for us now is to make a challenge in the courts against the church."

One way or the other, what this shows is that there could be all sorts of consequences unforeseen by the general public if we change our understanding of marriage.

Does the average Irish person really want to see churches forced to perform a form of marriage they don't believe in?

Some clergy, mind you, would be perfectly happy to officiate at a same-sex wedding, but other clergy and most of the mainline Churches and religions would find themselves on the most massive collision course with the State.

Don't be a bit surprised if some time in the next few years in some country - it could be Denmark or the Netherlands - all of the Churches, including the Catholic Church, are told they must be willing to host same-sex weddings on the grounds that not doing so is like refusing to officiate at an interracial wedding.

Last week 'The Irish Catholic' asked the Government a very relevant question. It asked if continued State funding for Accord will be guaranteed should we pass same-sex marriage.

Accord is the Catholic Church's marriage guidance counselling agency. It receives several hundred thousand per annum from the State in recognition of the good work it does, work that would otherwise have to be done by the State at greater cost.

A Government spokesman refused to confirm to 'The Irish Catholic' that State funding of Accord will continue should the referendum pass.

How could it, given the lack of any spirit of compromise whatsoever in this Government? It already thinks the present definition of marriage is a form of discrimination. It will double down on this thinking if we vote 'Yes'.

If Accord refuses to counsel same-sex married couples - and it will have to, given that it is a Catholic agency with a certain understanding of marriage - then the State will declare it guilty of 'discrimination' and State funding will come to an end.

This will force Accord to close or else to cease to be a Catholic agency. Lots of its volunteers would then resign, probably bringing it to an end anyway.

The total lack of compromise on the part of the Government, and on the part of the entire political establishment, is also reflected in its absolute refusal to countenance a conscience clause for those who don't believe in same-sex marriage but might run a small business that is involved to some extent in the wedding business.

You might run a small printing company, for example, and one day (as happened in Drogheda recently) you're asked to print the invites to a same-sex wedding. You decline on grounds of conscience and next minute you find yourself on the sharp end of the law.

Is this discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation? Well, if you refused to print invites to a polygamous wedding would that be discrimination against Muslims? It would not. You would be refusing in both cases because you believe marriage can only be between one man and one woman.

In the North we have seen the Equality Commission take legal action against Ashers Bakery because they wouldn't bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan on it. The owners of Ashers Bakery are Christians.

The fact that legal action was taken at all is disgraceful. Imagine if an agency of the Northern Ireland State took such an action against a Catholic baker who wouldn't bake a cake with the slogan, 'No Pope here' on it on behalf of a loyalist?

Both the action of the loyalist and the action of the Northern Ireland statutory body would be seen as sectarian by many people.

In a properly functioning democracy, the State allows various conflicting moral viewpoints to run side by side. It tries to ensure that each is treated fairly and it stays above the fray as much as possible.

Today, however, the State is increasingly aligning itself with a particular view of 'equality' to the point of total ideological dogmatism. We can see this from the way every organ of the State is being co-opted to the Yes side.

When the State gets itself into this frame of mind, there can be no more compromise than there was when we were dominated by the Church. We have basically swapped one form of dogmatism for another.