As Ireland begins to contemplate marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples, the Catholic bishops there have warned the government that if such a law were passed, then Catholic priests would no longer perform the civil aspects of marriage, in effect, no longer acting as agents of the state for marriage.
The Independent reports that if that happens, it could greatly affect the marriage landscape in Ireland:
“The bishops’ stance would affect the thousands of weddings that take place in the church every year if a referendum to extend marriage was passed.
“For a wedding to be legally recognised in Ireland, it must be solemnised by one of the 5,600 people who are on the Register of Solemnisers.
“Around 4,300 of these are Catholic priests.”
IrishCentral.com points out that not only may the bishops’ proposed action backfire, but that their influence in Irish politics is waning:
“But in a reaction the bishops might not have anticipated, many observers say that bishops unprecedented threat has the potential to backfire spectacularly, however. After decades of sexual abuse claims being ignored, or hidden, or denied and then reluctantly acknowledged, the bishops’ threat may not have the moral authority they imagine, critics contend.
“In fact, some observers see it as an opportunity to price the church’s hands from what is otherwise a civil arrangements.
” ‘With the removal of one of the main reasons that non-church goers still attend church at all, the bishops could be assembling a circular firing squad,’ one observer told the press. ‘This threat could actually do what many actually want it to – make marriage a civil contract with no religious associations at all, if the couple so desire. To some this is the equivalent of losing a five pound note and finding fifty.’ “
Groups supporting marriage equality seem unperturbed by the bishops threat. According to GayStarNews.com:
“The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) said they respected the freedom to practice religion and were not seeking to force religious solemnizers to carry out same-sex marriages, if they do not wish to do so. “
The push for marriage equality in Ireland is supported by Amnesty International, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Equality Authority and Irish Congress of Trade Unions, and six other key national groups, according to The Independent.
The bishops’ proposal is a reversal of a common strategy used here in the United States by some Christian churches who support marriage equality. Many pastors in these pro-LGBT congregations and denominations have signed pledges not to perform the civil aspects of marriage ceremonies until marriage equality is extended to lesbian and gay couples. They refuse to act as agents of the state while inequality exists.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry