Ireland’s government announced a nationwide referendum on marriage equality this past Tuesday, a sign of new attitudes in one of the world’s most Catholic nations.
The referendum, which builds on recommendations from a constitutional convention earlier this year, will be held in mid-2015 and will include a proposal for marriage equality, as well as other changes to the nation’s constitution. The Guardian reports that most Irish people support equality before the law for LGBT people, including marriage rights, and important government ministers also endorsed the marriage proposal during Tuesday’s announcement.
Among those speaking out is Taoiseach [Prime Minister] Enda Kenny, a Catholic who has, until now, remained silent regarding marriage equality. His Government has promised to enact laws on family matters, including adoption and surrogacy rights by same-gender couples, before this coming Christmas. This will pre-empt these matters from influencing the referendum debate in coming years. His deputy, Eamon Gilmore, commented on the wider significance of marriage equality becoming a more feasible reality in Ireland. According to The Independent, Gilmore’s spokesman noted the great change in Irish society, since it has only been 20 years since the decriminalization of homosexuality. He commented:
“This [marriage equality] is probably the last significant legal change (in this area).”
For their part, the Irish Catholic bishops promised an opposition campaign against marriage equality leading up to 2015’s referendum. Bishop Denis Nulty of Kildare and Leighlin released a statement which The Independent quoted, in part:
” ‘The Church will therefore participate fully in the democratic debate leading up to the referendum and will seek with others to reaffirm the rational basis for holding that marriage should be reserved for the unique and complimentary relationship between a woman and a man from which the generation and upbringing of children is uniquely possible…’ “
This referendum announcement, and coming political battle, arises at the same time as Pope Francis has asked for wider input from Catholics on issues like marriage equality as preparations for next fall’s synod on marriage and family are made. The Irish bishops have yet to announce how, or even if, they will solicit lay input.
Bondings 2.0 will update developments out of Ireland as they emerge in the coming months. If Irish Catholics are like other Catholics in a growing number of nations, they will be a force for marriage equality, not against it.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry