Irish Vote Reflects Diminished Moral Authority of Catholic Church

Irish voters turned out in huge numbers on Friday and cast their votes 62 to 38 percent in favor of amending the country’s constitution to allow same-sex couples to marry, making the overwhelmingly Catholic country the first in the world to legalize marriage for same-sex couples through a national referendum.

Trevor Gundy, writing for the Religion News Service just before the vote, had examined the decline of the Church’s power in Ireland. “Many Catholics wonder what right the Catholic Church has to oppose gay marriage when those charged with proclaiming and upholding Christian morality were abusing children.” After the vote, the Irish Sun said in an editorial, “Ireland officially emerged from the shadow of the Catholic Church yesterday to show its love and respect to people who have suffered here for centuries.” Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said the Church needs to take a “reality check” and reconnect with young people.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called the vote a “historic moment” for human rights. Writing in the Irish Times, Fintan O’Toole pondered the meaning of the vote for the people of Ireland and the world:


It looks extraordinary – little Ireland becoming the first country in the world to support same sex marriage by direct popular vote. But actually it’s about the ordinary. Ireland has redefined what it means to be an ordinary human being.

We’ve made it clear to the world that there is a new normal — that “ordinary” is a big, capacious word that embraces and rejoices in the natural diversity of humanity. LGBT people are now a fully acknowledged part of the wonderful ordinariness of Irish life.

It looks like a victory for tolerance. But it’s actually an end to mere toleration.

Tolerance is what “we” extend, in our gracious goodness, to “them”. It’s about saying “You do your own thing over there and we won’t bother you so long as you don’t bother us”.

The resounding Yes is a statement that Ireland has left tolerance far behind. It’s saying that there’s no “them” anymore. LGBT people are us — our sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, neighbours and friends. We were given the chance to say that. We were asked to replace tolerance with the equality of citizenship. And we took it in both arms and hugged it close.

O’Toole praise the “riventing eloquence” of marriage equality advocates, including people who “sacrificed their privacy and exposed their most intimate selves to the possibility of public rejection. Their courage and dignity made the difference.”

Even so, this is not a victory for articulate statement. Deep down, it’s a victory for halting, fretful speech. How? Because what actually changed Ireland over the last two decades is hundreds of thousands of painful, stammered conversations that began with the dreaded words “I have something to tell you…” It’s all those moments of coming out around kitchen tables, tentative words punctuated by sobs and sighs, by cold silences and fearful hesitations. Those awkward, unhappy, often unfinished conversations are where the truths articulated so eloquently in the campaign were first uttered. And it was through them that gay men and lesbians became Us, our children, our families.

It looks like a victory for Liberal Ireland over Conservative Ireland. But it’s much more significant than that.

It’s the end of that whole, sterile, useless, unproductive division. There is no longer a Liberal Ireland and a Conservative Ireland. The cleavage between rural and urban, tradition and modernity that has shaped so many of the debates of the last four decades has been repaired. This is a truly national moment — as joyful in Bundoran as it is Ballymun, in Castlerea as it is in Cobh.

Instead of Liberal Ireland and Conservative Ireland we have a decent, democratic Ireland.

And, said O’Toole:

Finally, it looks like a defeat for religious conservatives. But nobody has been defeated. Nobody has been diminished. Irish people comprehensively rejected the notion that our republic is a zero sum game, that what is given to one must be taken from another. Everybody gains from equality — even those who didn’t think they wanted it. Over time, those who are in a minority on this issue will come to appreciate the value of living in a pluralist democracy in which minorities are respected.

By pushing forward on what only recently seemed a marginal issue, the LGBT community has given all of Irish democracy one of its greatest days. It has given our battered republic a new sense of engagement, a new confidence, an expanded sense of possibility.

On Monday (Memorial Day in the US) Justice Minister Francis Fitzgerald said she would push for quick passage of enacting legislation to allow couples to begin marrying in Augus, saying, “My intention is to seek Government approval for the Marriage Bill 2015 in June with the aim of introducing the Bill into the Oireachtas immediately thereafter so that the legislation can be enacted before the summer recess.”

Irish personality Panti Bliss declared, I’m over the gay moon and drunk on Yes, and like any happy groom on his wedding morning, I’m truly, deeply, madly in love. I am in love with the whole country.” BuzzFeed chronicled the celebration in Dublin and pondered the vote’s impact. “When historians write about the global LGBT rights movement,” wrote Lester Feder, “they will probably divide their timeline into ‘Before Ireland’ and ‘After Ireland.'”

Before Ireland, a country whose sodomy law wasn’t struck down until 1993, the goal of changing a nation’s mind about LGBT rights seemed daunting if not impossible. After Ireland, it seems like it may just be a matter of time even in countries where public support for LGBT equality remains very low and where powerful religious institutions are vocally opposed.

What’s more, conservative activists agree at least in part, telling BuzzFeed News that this vote shows that their strongest arguments against marriage equality have lost their impact in key parts of the world.

“We’re losing the marriage battles — that’s the truth, especially in Western Europe,” said Ignacio Arsuaga, a Spanish activist who founded a global online campaign platform called CitizenGo. (Its board includes Brian Brown of the United States’s National Organization for Marriage.) “Our arguments are not reaching the majority of society. The majority of society just think in the terms that were promoted by the gay lobby: ‘This is a question of rights …and marriage is a human right.”

There were dissenters, of course, including Breda O’Brien, who wrote in the Irish Times that people who voted against are every bit as tolerant and generous as their neighbors, and worried about a yet-to-be-born Irish lass who will love her two moms but long to find out more about her Danish sperm-donor father. The Iona Institute’s David Quinn conceded and congratulated the victors, while saying, “Going forward, we will continue to affirm the importance of the biological ties and of motherhood and fatherhood. We hope the Government will address the concerns voters on the No side have about the implications for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.” NOM’s Brian Brown praised the Catholic Iona Institute, which took the lead in the “no” campaign, and blamed the outcome on “the increasingly secularized nature of Ireland, together with the utter abandonment of principle by every political party in the nation, all of whom endorsed the referendum.”At Frontiers, Karen Ocamb cast a skeptical eye on NOM’s claims about the vote.



  •' Janet Cooper Nelson says:

    The vote in ireland categorically does NOT reflect diminished moral authority for the Catholic Church. It does confirm absolutely where to locate the moral authority entirety of the Christian Church in all of its manifestation Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant. The moral authority of the Church resides where the Holy Spirit animates. As the Pope driven by the Spirit’s voice moves Archbishop Romero toward sainthood and his beloved Church away from its alliance with repressive Central American political regimes, so the Irish voters moved by that same Holy Spirit move their beloved nation and Church toward justice and inclusion and away from its homophobic history. This is a statement of radiant, even radical moral authority in the hearts of citizen believers.

  •' Whiskyjack says:

    I think that this reflects not only the diminished authority of the Catholic Church, but the diminished ability of religion in general to claim that it is the source of moral authority. Catholics have long disregarded inconvenient direction from the Church on matters of premarital sex and contraception. The pedophilia scandals in both Europe and North America have revealed that the Catholic Church’s main concern is for self-preservation, not moral integrity or leadership. The scandals surrounding Ted Haggard, Josh Duggar and numerous other evangelical bright lights reveal that their brand of religion is no better. I think the world will be better off if we look to ourselves as the wellspring of moral principles.

  •' GeniusPhx says:

    I can only hope this is the beginning of the end of near theocracies all over the world, including here in the US. It isn’t even gay marriage that strikes fear into the christians, it’s that they no longer have the power to force the bible into law. Their power has been diminishing for decades, but it’s speeding up more recently. All people need is a more tolerant environment to feel safe to admit their secularism, and then they will come out in droves.


  •' George M Melby says:

    I giggle when I think of NOM and its non-importance in this whole situation. The intelligent people of the world aren’t buying them or their toxic snake oil! It’s about time!

  •' George M Melby says:

    Actually, the power of Rome is diminishing in the USA also; it just is going to take more time, but it is well on its way! What is happening to the hierarchy of the Catholic church has been brought on by themselves… they have no one to blame but themselves!

  •' Frank says:

    Irish vote reflects diminished morality.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Trinitheism is under attack on 3 fronts. One of those battles is about lost, and so the Holy Spirit probably can’t stand much longer either.

  •' Steve Bailey says:

    Janet- brilliant, timely and resoundingly Godly comment. Thanks so much.

  •' Janet Cooper Nelson says:

    The Holy Spirit is neither described by nor diminished by all that wrong-headed/hearted constructs that religious structures arrogate to themselves. Wherever deadness prevails the Spirit invites us to witness the resurrection anew: “Be still and know that I am God”

  •' Jim Reed says:

    That is the church telling you that.

  •' Janet Cooper Nelson says:

    The Church, as a human institution, is threaded with paradox, contradiction, ambiguity– life, death, bureaucracy and compassion all cohabiting under one roof.

  •' gilhcan says:

    Until we genuinely understand, accept, and honestly practice “what it means to be an ordinary human being,” in all the diversities, we have no right to claim that our religious beliefs are honest and good.

    “There are these four, trust, hope, care, and honesty, and the greatest of these is honesty.” That is taking a bit of liberty with words attributed to a good man. I do not think he or any genuine followers would challenge it.

    First, we must understand. Understanding requires both academic and practical study, We must grow beyond ourselves, beyond any confines that are imposed upon us by others, by family, by friends, by government, and by all institutions.

    In all things, we must be honest. Honesty undergirds everything that can be claimed as a virtue, a strength. “To thine own self be true.” “And the greatest of these is honesty.”

  •' gilhcan says:

    As for pedophilia, don’t leave out Central or South America. Do not leave out Africa. Do not leave out the East, middle or far. Clergy who have been permitted to marry are far from innocent. It’s a matter of degree, great matter, great degree.

    I am convinced it is impossible to deny that the celibacy requirement of Catholic clergy creates within that institution a welcoming place for sexually troubled people. It must be clearly understood that pedophilia and homosexuality are very different conditions. Not that the rules of the Catholic Church regarding sex haven’t created many people with troubled sexual outlooks and practices.

  •' gilhcan says:

    It is traditional to ascribe credit for all good occurrences in the Catholic Church to the Holy Spirit–formerly the Holy Ghost–“and all those little ghosties.” But it was the thinking, feeling people of Ireland, the voters, who determined the end of prejudice toward homosexuals as feeling, relating people. I’m not ready to give that credit to a vaporous Holy Spirit. If so, the question that must follow is, where was that Holy Spirit during all the many centuries when “His” church held such unholy attitudes toward homosexuals–and other people? Or has the Holy Spirit attended graduate school and learned more science, sociology, and psychology, and become more enlightened?

  •' Jon Spangler says:

    I think the Irish vote in favor of same-sex marriage may actually represent a “success” for the church in this sense: the church universal–including the Roman Catholic branch thereof–has been trying for millennia to teach people the true meaning of “Love one another as I have loved you,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

    The triumph of the revolutionary message of love (which is also compassion, charity, justice, brotherhood, and more) over the hierarchical frameworks we erect around that un-containable message is, indeed, a triumph of the Gospel over human shortsightedness. And I think the Roman Catholic bishops’ statements reflect at least some understanding of the truly amazing love reflected in the Irish vote.

    Perhaps the church universal–including its Roman Catholic division–will actually “get” the message it carries, after all…

  •' Jon Spangler says:

    I could not disagree more. How can you equate justice with “diminished” morality? Certainly the opposite is true if one reviews the entire Biblical narrative with its endless calls from God to “do justice…”

  •' cranefly says:

    I wonder how they plan on reconnecting with the young.

    Not a molestation joke, I really mean it.

  •' Frank says:

    Continue sin isn’t Justice.

  •' Fired, Aren't I says:

    Frank is a dependable troll. Please don’t feed him.

  •' gilhcan says:

    In a way, you might call the Irish vote for same-sex marriage a “diminishment” of church authority in that country that has seemed so “Catholic” for so many centuries. The reality is that the authority of the church has greatly diminished world-wide. Though people have claimed affiliation with the Catholic Church that has really never meant they are totally subservient to all its dictates or religious practices. For that matter, they never were.

    In many things other than sexuality, Catholics, like members of other churches, have always been selective about what they accept. They didn’t announce it, didn’t even talk about it, they just lived their lives by their own choices. The recent national vote seems like a pronouncement because it was such a public endeavor. It stands out because it constitutes a more public display than individual practices in the past. That’s the same throughout the world and in all churches. Churches have never been what they seem.

  •' Craptacular says:

    The Irish vote reflects the diminished influence of the papacy on secular affairs.

  • I think we’ve seen this before: Quebec in the Quiet Revolution, maybe 1960~1980: sudden implosion of the formerly ultramontane RC Establishment.


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