Marriage and the Family
These are critical times for marriage in our society. On May 22nd the people of Ireland are being asked to vote in a referendum that proposes to change the meaning of marriage in the Constitution of Ireland.
In opposing this proposal to redefine marriage the Church’s stance is a positive one. Neither the Church nor the State invented marriage and neither can change its nature. Marriage existed long before the existence of either Church or State. Since human life began men and women have come together to love each other, to have children, to care for and educate their children. All cultures have encouraged men and women to marry so that children can be raised in the best possible atmosphere. Family is the place where we learn how to love. Fathers and mothers have different gifts, different ways of expressing love. Children are enriched when they have this experience as they grow up. Pope Francis said recently that “the family is under threat today by growing efforts to redefine the very institution of marriage”. Marriage brings such great benefits to society that we ought to think very carefully before changing it.
Equal but different
The union of a man and a woman is quite different from the union of two men or two women. By nature alone they differ. The biggest difference is that the marriage of man and woman has the capacity to produce new life and provide the best environment for that life to grow. Fathers and mothers bring something different, unique and essential to the raising of their children. In saying this we are not being disrespectful to same-sex relationships. Everyone should be treated with compassion, respect, sensitivity. Legislation governing civil partnerships gives same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples in terms of inheritance rights, next-or-kin status, employment and tax related benefits. Surely ways can be found to protect the civil rights of gay people while also maintaining the fundamental meaning of marriage as commonly understood across cultures and religions down the ages.
This referendum is not about same-sex relationships or about equality. It is about the nature of marriage and the importance that society places on the role of mothers and fathers in raising their children. “Children have a right to grow up with a father and a mother” (Pope Francis). Circumstances sometimes mean that it is not possible for a child to be brought up by his or her parents. We cannot, however, support a referendum which redefines 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. Equality respects and cherishes difference. We are equal in dignity but we have different gifts. Voting no in this referendum is voting to retain our definition of marriage. It is not a vote against equality.
If this amendment is passed there will be serious implications. It will become increasingly difficult to speak or teach in public about marriage as being between a man and a woman. There could be lawsuits against individuals and groups who do not share this vision. What will we be expected to teach children in school about marriage or about homosexual acts? Will those who sincerely believe that marriage is between a man and a woman be forced to act against their faith and conscience? This referendum seeks to give constitutional approval to the Children and Family Relationships Bill which proposes to remove all mention of mothers and fathers and which effectively says to parents, children and society that the State should not and will not promote any ideal environment for raising children, and also implies that the natural ties between a child and its father and mother have no real value for the child or for society.
The effects of this proposed amendment will be far-reaching for this and for future generations. It is important to have our say and vote on Friday 22nd. In this month of May, the month of Mary, we ask her intercession as we pray for the Lord’s blessing on marriage and the family.
Bishop of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora