Ireland's referendum on same-sex marriage ended with a victory for LGBTQ rights. According to the Irish Times, 62% of voters voted in favor of a constitutional amendment permitting same-sex marriage. A total of 1,935,907 persons voted in the referendum, an impressive turnout of 60%. The victory makes Ireland the first nation to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote.
The referendum results serve as a reminder that the Catholic Church no longer has a stranglehold on Irish morality. In spite of loud opposition to same-sex marriage from Ireland's Religious Right and Catholic Church, the Irish people still voted in favor of LGBTQ equality.
Even some members of the Catholic clergy supported the referendum, suggesting dissension within the Irish Catholic Church itself on the issue of LGBTQ rights. For example, Pádraig Standún, a Carna priest, penned a commentary piece for the Connaught Telegraph in which he announced that he would vote 'yes' on the referendum. Iggy O’Donovan, a Limerick priest and member of the Augustinian order, also revealed that he would be voting 'yes' in a commentary piece at the Irish Times.
One Irish Catholic leader recognizes that Irish society is changing, but refuses to admit that the Catholic Church must adapt in meaningful ways. During an interview with RTÉ News, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin admitted that the vote was part of a "social revolution" in Ireland. Martin argued that the Catholic Church must do a "reality check" with regard to Irish culture, especially regarding the attitudes of young people.
"I think the Church needs to do a reality check right across the board, to look at the things it is doing well, to look at the areas where we really have to start and say, have we drifted away completely from young people? ... We have to stop and have a reality check and not move into a denial of the realities. We won't begin again with a sense of renewal by simply denial."Martin understood that many of the 'yes' votes came from young people who had been educated in Catholic schools, suggesting that the church has failed to engage with younger generations.
"Most of those young people who voted 'yes' are products of our Catholic schools for twelve years ... There's a big challenge there to see how we get across the message of the church. There are huge things going on in the Catholic Church in this country of which we can be immensely proud. That's happening here today. But I do thing we need a real reality check, to sit down and say, 'Are we reaching out at all to young people?'"Martin was quick to remind the interviewer that the Catholic Church will not renounce its ban on same-sex marriage. Instead, the church needs new language and new outreach efforts, he argued.
"We're becoming a church of the like-minded, and a sort of a safe space for the like-minded rather than the church which Pope Francis is talking about as reaching out. Now that doesn't mean we renounce our teaching on the fundamental values of marriage and the family. Nor does it mean that we dig into the trenches. We need to find, as in so many areas, a new language which is fundamentally ours, but speaks to, is understood, and becomes appreciated by others."When the interviewer reminded Martin of the moral importance of equality, the archbishop engaged in doublespeak, unfortunately. Martin strongly opposed "changing the definition of marriage" but insisted that he empathized with the suffering of Ireland's gays and lesbians. The idea that being denied equal rights could be part of that suffering never occurred to him.
INTERVIEWER: But doesn't the fundamental value of marriage and the family need to be leavened by perhaps a greater overarching value, the value of having an open hearth, a welcome to national family for everybody, and perhaps that ought to have trumped the old-fashioned teaching?Martin's interview reflects the dilemma in which the Catholic Church finds itself. On one hand, church leaders clearly understand that the world is changing, and that people are rejecting Catholic teachings en masse. On the other hand, leaders do not see (or refuse to admit) that Catholic teachings and systemic sins are driving away 21st century people. The only way for the church to stay relevant is to jettison antediluvian doctrines and atone for its rampant child abuse, financial scandals, and sexist structure. No amount of outreach or "new language" will make the Catholic Church's homophobia, misogyny, or moral failures any less repugnant. Until church leaders grasp this simple fact, people around the world will reject Catholic teachings.
MARTIN: I constantly, in anything I said, tried as much as I could to be respectful to the, first of all, the suffering of gay men and women in this country. And I think that if they're rejoicing this evening, much of that is rejoicing because they're moving out from that. But on the other hand, I have the strong belief--there's a strong belief in the church about the nature of marriage and the family. I would have liked to have seen that the rights of gay and lesbian men and women could have been respected without changing the definition of marriage. That hasn't happened, but that's the world we live in today, and that's the world we, as a church, we will begin to try and find ways in which the Christian message can be got across not just on this question, but on all the other inequalities that exist in society."
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
Human Rights Watch: Pride in the Name of Love
Huffington Post: Double Rainbows Show Up In Time For Ireland's Gay Marriage Vote
BBC News: Emotional posts as Ireland votes yes to same-sex marriage in referendum