Irish referendum and the same-sex marriage question


As the Irish prepare to vote May 22 on whether to legalize same-sex marriage in Ireland, Dublin’s archbishop says those relationships should be cherished — but marriage is reserved for heterosexual couples. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin expressed his thoughts in a speech last week that offers insights for the universal Catholic Church pertaining to marriage and family. (See The Irish Times, May 6, 2015)

The archbishop said he will vote against the referendum. He provided an eloquent summation of church teaching on marriage and questioned secularists who dismiss “the relevance of faith in the debate on social issues in a pluralistic society.”

He observed that the Catholic Church, in the past, has presented its message poorly. “What is a message of love was presented in language that was harsh,” he said in his speech to diocesan communications officers in Dublin. Furthermore, the “Church argues from a somewhat abstract view point about the understanding of the nature of sexuality and of the uniqueness of the mutual relationship between male and female. Others argue from concrete examples of people that they know and their personal hopes, frustrations and desires. Where can these different strands meet?” the archbishop asked.

That’s a question Catholics grapple with in the United States, where the U.S. Supreme Court is deciding whether the Constitution gives couples of the same sex the right to marry. Iowa was among the first states in the nation to allow same-sex marriage. That led the state’s bishops, including our Bishop Martin Amos, to issue a statement seeking an amendment to the Iowa Constitution declaring marriage to be the union of one man and one woman. “… In a manner unlike any other relationship, marriage makes a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the common good of society, especially through the procreation and education of children,” Iowa’s bishops said. Iowa has not passed an amendment.


Catholics remain conflicted about the issue of same-sex marriage, which society has transformed into a civil rights movement. In the Diocese of Davenport, pastoral care to persons with homosexual tendencies was the second-most commented-on section of a questionnaire Bishop Amos conducted in preparation for the Synod of Bishops on the Family.

An observation in Bishop Amos’ report for the synod bears repeating: “The starting point in this area of ministry must always be the full human dignity and value of the homosexual person as a child of God. The language used by the church needs to be more nuanced. It seems that the church makes sexual sins — and especially those related to same-sex attraction — to be the most heinous sins of all. Can the goodness in a same-sex relationship be acknowledged while not agreeing that the genital aspects of same-sex attraction are good?”

The Davenport Diocese stands by church teaching but seeks to take a pastoral approach toward same-sex couples and their family members. That’s the approach Pope Francis models in his relationships with all people. Media of all stripes jumped on a statement the pope made in January in the Philippines about the family being “threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage. …” Some thought he was taking a hard-line approach. Perhaps. But Pope Francis is convening the Synod of Bishops on the Family in October (the second of two synods on this topic) because of his desire to meet people where they are at, and from there to build on the church’s rich understanding of sacramental marriage.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum in Ireland, church teaching on marriage and the family and its relevance to social ethics will remain the same, Archbishop Martin said in his speech.

But the church has room to grow in how it relates to and ministers to couples in same-sex unions.

Barb Arland-Fye

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