Pastoral Statement of Bishop Ray Browne on the marriage referendum

09 May 2015

‘Marriage is important – Reflect before you change it’
(Title of the Pastoral Statement of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference December 2014)

A marriage (made up of man and woman) is not the same as the union of two people of the same sex. To distinguish is not to discriminate but to respect differences… (Pope Francis, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, in an April 2010 Pastoral Letter)

Married love is a unique form of love between a man and woman which has special benefit for the whole of society. To seek to redefine the nature of marriage would be to undermine it as the fundamental building block of our society. (Pastoral Statement of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference December 2014)

We cannot support an amendment to the Constitution which redefines marriage and effectively places the union of two men, or two women, on a par with the marriage relationship between a husband and wife which is open to the procreation of children. (Statement from the March 2015 Spring General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference)

To interfere with the definition of marriage is not a simple or a trivial matter. (Archbishop Eamon Martin, Armagh Diocese, 2 May 2015)

In these final weeks leading up to the Referendum at all times we should speak a language that is kind and gentle and we should remember the God-given human dignity of every person irrespective of their sexual orientation or their position and views on how we should vote.

“The future of humanity passes by way of marriage and family”. This phrase has its origins in words spoken by Pope John Paul II. Is there anything more vital to the wellbeing of society than ‘marriage and family’? The union of two of the same sex is fundamentally different from marriage and should develop independently under a different name. In recent years our country already has introduced ‘Civil Partnership’.

Many people are concerned that the incidence of marriage breakdown is high in Ireland. It is common wisdom that here, as in many other western countries, marriage is under great pressure from so many aspects of modern life. We have a grave responsibility not to adopt policies that could further seriously undermine it. I believe that the Christian perspective is to encourage a ‘No’ vote in this Referendum. I genuinely believe that a ‘Yes’ vote will change the definition of marriage and that within a generation or two it could hugely further undermine the stability of marriage in Ireland.

People are realising that all sides should acknowledge that this Referendum is proposing a very major change to the State’s definition of marriage as implied in the Constitution. If the Referendum is passed what will be the new State and Constitutional definition of marriage? What is the current State definition of marriage? Is marriage the biggest decision a person makes in her/his lifetime? It has enormous lifelong implications. Is it not essential that the State has a clear definition of it? I will try to give you some idea of what I have in mind.

Up to recent decades society worldwide and also Irish society defined marriage as between a man and a woman. I believe that it has huge implications to now change this definition to state that it can be between two women or two men.

Up to recent decades society has also said that ‘couples exchange the right to have children where possible’ as part of their marriage vows. In the current debate many commentators and campaigners are saying that ‘openness to children’ is not an actual part of marriage. If the Referendum is passed there will be very strong arguments that children are not part of the Constitution’s implied definition of marriage.

These are two major changes if they become part of the definition of marriage in our Constitution. ‘Between a man and a woman’, ‘openness to children’, along with ‘a lifelong, loving sharing of their whole lives’ are the three most important elements of marriage.

I believe that all campaigning groups and media bear a responsibility to have all aspects and implications of this proposed constitutional change fully explained and understood. It is important that everyone who votes be aware of the full implications of the proposed change to our Irish Constitution. This can be done in a spirit that respects and honours every person and their personal viewpoint.

Bishop Ray Browne​​​​​​​​​ ​
Diocese of Kerry ​​​​​​​​​​ ​
8 May 2015