With 62.07% of the vote, Ireland became the first nation to approve marriage equality by popular referendum yesterday.
Ireland is more than 80% Catholic, meaning the debate over marriage rights was closely tied to the church.
Recent months included many Catholics coming out publicly for the “Yes” campaign, including religious and priests. The Irish hierarchy took a muted tone in comparison to their brother bishops abroad, and many considered this vote a referendum on the Irish church’s power as well.
Below, Bondings 2.0 provides initial reactions to the referendum’s successful outcome. To view our full coverage of the debate from recent months, click here. You can read New Ways Ministry’s reaction by clicking here.
As soon as the vote was tallied, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said the church needs a “reality check” in response to the “social revolution” signified by the referendum results.
The archbishop criticized the church for being a “safe space for the like-minded,” rather than a church going out to the margins for which Pope Francis has called. Martin, as reported by the Irish Independent, said the church needed new language because its teachings were clearly alienating to young people:
“It’s very clear that if this referendum is an affirmation of the views of young people that the church has a huge challenge in front of it to find the language to be able to talk to and get its message across to young people, not just on this issue but in general.
“I think really the church needs to do a reality check right across the board, to look at the areas in which we’re doing well and see have we drifted away completely from young people.”
Martin noted that he appreciates gay people feel marriage equality will be “enriching the way they live.” Though these admissions are obvious for many Catholics, such remarks from an archbishop are rare and a positive sign that members of the hierarchy might be learning more about same-gender relationships.
Father Seamus Ahearne of Finglas echoed the archbishop’s sentiments about a new language for the church, telling the International Business Times:
“Religion and the Catholic Church have almost become irrelevant in people’s lives…This pompous, pious, arrogant language we’ve used for so long — it’s wrong. The church has to speak a different kind of language now, reaching into people’s hearts.”
Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan, plaintiffs in an unsuccessful 2006 lawsuit seeking marriage equality in Ireland, gave their response to the vote to the Boston Globe. Their Catholic roots are deep, having met at Boston College after Gilligan spent time in religious life. The couple’s proposal was broadcast live on television as results came in and they plan to hold a wedding soon because, as Zappone says, “There’s nothing like an Irish wedding.”
Political analyst Sean Donnelly told the The Washington Post:
“We’re in a new country…When I was reared up, the church was all powerful and the word ‘gay’ wasn’t even in use in those days. How things have moved from my childhood to now.”
Health Minister Leo Varadkar, who came out as gay in January while endorsing the referendum, said the vote was a “social revolution.” Crux quoted him further:
“We’re the first country in the world to enshrine marriage equality in our constitution and do so by popular mandate. That makes us a beacon, a light to the rest of the world, of liberty and equality.”
New Ways Ministry director Francis DeBernardo said in a statement that Ireland’s victory on LGBT rights combined with yesterday’s beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero signified real gains for lay people in the church. The post says, in part:
“What do these two stories have in common? In both cases, the opinion of Catholic lay people has won the day, even when the church’s hierarchy opposed both developments. In both cases, the sense of the faithful overcame institutional fears and customs. In both cases, Catholic ideals were articulated and lived out by the laity.”
DignityUSA director Marianne Duddy-Burke said in a statement:
“It is very significant that the first nation to legalize same-sex marriage by popular referendum is a predominantly Catholic country…[Catholics] voted with their hearts and their consciences, and the result is increased justice.”
The response from those who opposed marriage equality, led by the conservative Iona Institute, is noteworthy. David Quinn, a spokesperson, congratulated “Yes” campaigners and accepted the results, a contrast to the often acidic tone which has characterized marriage debates in the United States and elsewhere.
Finally, Buzzfeed reported that some Twitter users are opining that a rainbow appearing over Dublin yesterday is Jesus’ approval of the referendum’s outcome.
Ireland’s vote means twenty nations have now legalized same-gender marriage and many of them are predominantly or historically Catholic. To see the official Irish results, visit the Referendum 2015 page here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry