Ireland – the gay issue
Posted by Fr Mark on September 4, 2009
Surprisingly, even Mary Kenny, not someone previously known for a calm and balanced approach to such matters, had rather positive things to say about the proposal now before the Dail to legislate for same-sex civil unions in Ireland.
In the Irish Constitution, Church and State are separate entities: it therefore follows that Church leaders and elected politicians may have different views about law and policy.
Thus it is with the Civil Partnership Bill. Cardinal Brady has said that same-sex unions, akin to marriage, are not acceptable in terms of Christian moral theology. He is not only right to make this statement: he is obliged to uphold the Christian moral tradition. A marriage, within Christianity (and almost all other faiths), can only be between a man and a woman. Bravo to Dr Brady for having the courage to make that stand: he will receive not a few brickbats.
At the same time, the civil State – and voters – are not bound by theological guidance in this matter. The civil State can legislate as it chooses. As the British constitutionalist, Walter Bagheot noted in the 19th century, members of parliament may vote that men are women and women are men if they so decide (and now that it may be considered improper, and in athletics, even racist, to question whether a woman is a woman, we may be coming close to that situation).
The Cardinal must defend the Faith. The politicians must enact legislation as they see fit. In that sense, both sides of the debate are in the right.
It is also possible that both sides of the debate have overstated their case. I am not sure that same-sex marriages will ”undermine” marriage as we know it. There are many other factors seeking to do that. It is even possible that the desire of homosexuals for wedlock gives it an extra status: almost advertising it as the gold standard of a love relationship.
It’s not so long ago, remember, that all right-thinking liberals were disparaging marriage as a form of ”bourgeois oppression” which was ”only a bit of paper”. Now, it seems, a contractual (and maybe sacrilised) union is devoutly to be desired.
Yet the numbers may not add up to anything significant. In Britain, the number of same-sex unions – after an initial bloom – is now falling: some commentators have suggested that the whole idea was a bit of a passing fad.
I think it important to respect individuals, their relationships and their good faith, so I wouldn’t want to be dismissive of a sincerely held bond of loyalty. But, within the context of legislation, the separation of powers remains.