The Rector Writes – the Marriage Equality Referendum and Church reaction

The topic which dominated all media over recent weeks is the Marriage Equality Referendum to allow same-sex marriage. Proponents of both sides of the debate spent endless hours of air time expounding their support or opposition to the proposal. As polling day drew closer there were indications from opinion polls that the ‘No’ side were rapidly gaining ground on the ‘Yes’. The tension was beginning to mount and all indications were that it would become another media circus – but on polling day itself, despite the absence of an exit poll, it became apparent from the voter turnout levels that margins would not be as close as predicted. And just an hour into the count on Saturday saw the leaders of the ‘No’ campaign conceding defeat and sending their congratulations to those fronting the ‘Yes’ campaign.

Much has been made of where the Churches have stood on this issue. The Roman Catholic Church through its hierarchy advocated a ‘No’ vote – a position also advocated by the Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist Churches. The Church of Ireland House of Bishops were divided on the issue and the Archbishop of Armagh stressed at the final day of General Synod on 9th May, that the Referendum was a civil matter which would not and could not impact on the Church’s teaching. He therefore commended the vote to the consciences of individual voters. However, a press release from the House of Bishops immediately after the official declaration of the result has attracted much criticism. Whilst it accepted that the democratic will of the people, “The archbishops and bishops of the Church of Ireland wish to affirm that the people of the Republic of Ireland, in deciding by referendum to alter the State’s legal definition of marriage, have of course acted fully within their rights” it went on to say that the teaching of the Church remains unchanged. However, it was the concluding remarks forming a play on words ‘ Triumph’ and ‘Disaster’ from the Rudyard Kipling poem ‘If’ which has provoked most controversy, “We would now sincerely urge a spirit of public generosity, both from those for whom the result of the referendum represents triumph, and from those for whom it signifies disaster.” Nothing in the statement would suggest that the Church of Ireland is willing to engage with the civil authorities or to engage and listen to those many members of the Church who voted ‘Yes’.

Those passing critique have contrasted this with the statement made by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin which would appear to take a much more humble approach. I quote, “I think really the Church needs to do a reality check,” and, “I appreciate how gay and lesbian men and women feel on this day. That they feel this is something that is enriching the way they live. I think it is a social revolution.” And in one final quote, “It’s clear that if the referendum is an affirmation of the views of young people the Church has a huge task in front of it.” The Churches do indeed have a huge task in front of them if they are to engage relevantly and fruitfully with young people. And they can only do that if they are willing set aside their own agendas and be completely open to listen – even to things they may not want to hear.

 With every blessing, John.

The Rev’d John Tanner. Tel: 289 3154 / 086 302 1376

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