Proposed constitutional change will have profound implications for the role of marriage, family and society – Bishop Brendan Leahy
Bishop sets out in pastoral letter why he cannot support referendum
Sunday, May 10th, 2015: The proposed redefinition of marriage in the forthcoming referendum will have a profound impact on the public life and the personal lives of the citizens of our country, Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy has stated.
In a letter, including specific reflections on the referendum, distributed today at Churches across the Diocese of Limerick this weekend, Bishop Leahy said that the proposed “major shift” in the Constitution will have implications for the role of marriage and family.
Outlining why he individually, and as a signatory of the statement from the Bishops’ Conference, cannot support this amendment to the Constitution which redefines marriage, Bishop Leahy said that his and others’ concern on the ‘no’ side of this debate has to do with how the proposed redefinition of marriage will impact on society as a whole, on family life that is already challenged, and in particular on children who have a right, except when this is not possible, to be raised by a mother and father.
Bishop Leahy said that the debate around the referendum is an intense one, to the extent that some are choosing not to engage but he asked the faithful, in reading the letter, to do so carefully, share it with others and talk about it.
It is, he wrote, not easy to dialogue about these issues. “But as the final days wind down to the referendum, let’s try all of us to remain respectful of each other’s view, listening to one another and, no matter what the outcome, be committed to building up a society that is good for families to be brought up in.”
Bishop Leahy said that from listening to the experiences of those in society who are passionate about or have been affected by this issue, he recognises the importance of greater sensitivity to people with a homosexual orientation and the banishing of any homophobic attitudes.
However, reflecting on marriage, he said: “Marriage as an institution is under enormous pressure in the Western world. The forthcoming Referendum is a call to Christians to rediscover the deep foundations of marriage based on the union of a man and a woman who are created to complement each other and, where possible, bring new life into the world.
“We (Bishops Conference) have pointed to our concern that should the amendment be passed, it will become increasingly difficult to speak any longer in public about marriage as being between a man and a woman. We also ask, ‘what will we be expected to teach children in school about marriage? Will those who sincerely continue to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman be forced to act against their conscience?’.
“I invite all people of faith to pray about their decision in the forthcoming Referendum. I also ask that we pray, especially during May, for marriage and the family. It is important to reflect deeply before deciding on an amendment which, if passed, would be a major change in our Constitution and our society. Indeed, Ireland would become the only jurisdiction in the world providing explicitly for same-sex marriage in its Constitution.”
Bishop Leahy’s referendum reflections set out in the letter are as follows:
[*] The fundamental meaning of marriage has been commonly understood down the ages and across cultures and faiths as a man-woman relationship open to life. God has given a great gift to humanity with the creation of man and woman and with the sacrament of marriage. Legal systems the world over have viewed marriage as a fundamental institution upon which family life is built. Do we really want to tamper with such a fundamental institution in society?
[*] It has been rightly said that what we do in the ballot box on May 22nd will have a profound impact on the public life and the personal lives of the citizens of our country. Redefining marriage has major implications. It is far too early to presume we know the full extent of them. The experience of those states that have introduced similar changes is so recent that we cannot really know the full range of the developments and challenges ahead of us with a radical redefinition of marriage. Is it wise to take such a major step on the basis of so little evidence?
[*] A major development in our modern age has been the recognition that men and women are not the same, not just biologically, but on so many other levels. Men and women are not interchangeable. Is it right to unhinge marriage from its original grounding in our biological life? In recognising the value of the loving care of individual-single parents, we can still acknowledge that mothers and fathers bring different, yet complementary gifts and strengths into a child’s life. Is it right to insert into our Constitution an option for adult rights at the expense of children’s rights, such as the right, except when this is not possible, to be raised by a mother and father?
[*] The issue before us is not a specifically Catholic question. Marriage and family existed before the Church and before the State. Based on faith and reason, the Bishops’ Conference has said that it cannot support an amendment 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. The Irish State should be able to find a way to protect the civil rights of gay people without undermining the meaning of marriage that is as old as the hills.
[*] The issue of equality has been raised. But is the amendment actually about equality? Is it not really about making same-sex unions identical to traditional marriages of one man and one woman? While respecting the equality of everyone as a citizen, there is a legitimate distinction to be made between same-sex unions and that of the union of one man and one woman in marriage. If the amendment is passed, is it not reasonable to say that traditional marriage will lose its unique identity, that the Constitutional and Irish case-law understanding of family will change radically?
[*] In their statement, the Bishops expressed their concern that “should the amendment be passed, it will become increasingly difficult to speak any longer in public about marriage as being between a man and a woman. Will those who sincerely continue to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman be forced to act against their conscience?” It has already been said that there will be no provisions for exceptions based on conscience. Is that fair?
[*] When we look to international experience, as well as much legislation, there have been 37 referenda on the issue of same-sex marriage, from what we are aware. Three of the referenda were in Europe and 34 in the US. Only four, all in the US, were carried but the other 33 were defeated.
[*] Should the amendment be passed, more questions will arise: “what will we be expected to teach children in school about marriage?” Many implications will arise from this. One example, however small, might be possible legal challenges around school text books that do not equally present depictions of same-sex couples and male-female couples as images for parents. And this is just one example.
[*] The Children and Family Relationships Act that was signed into law recently has removed mention of mothers and fathers from a whole raft of previous legislation. It is unfortunate there was very little public debate on this major piece of law. This referendum, if passed, will copper-fasten it. But don’t words matter, especially words like mother and father, which have existed for millennia for a reason? Why should we run the risk of wiping those identities out of public discourse? They have real depth and meaning. Can other functional terms really convey what fathers and mothers each bring as male and female to the important task of generating, rearing and educating their sons and daughters?
+ Brendan Leahy
Bishop of Limerick