Monday, May 11, 2015

Chris Morley on the "Pure Bluff" of Irish Catholic Bishops As Referendum on Marriage Equality in Ireland Approaches

As the date of the Irish referendum on marriage equality (it will be held 22 May) approaches, Chris Morley keeps providing valuable, carefully documented updates in comments here on what's happening in Ireland. To assure that all readers of this blog have the chance to benefit from Chris's reports, I'm going to lift two of them into a posting today. First

Today, in Ireland's Journal, I was reminded that the Irish Bishops' threat to stop all signing of civil marriage paperwork at church weddings is just retreading tired old arguments that didn't work in Britain. Catholic priests in Britain haven't been compelled to marry LGBT couples in Church. Catholic priests in Britain are still happily signing the state's civil marriage paperwork.

So I'm even more sure it is all pure bluff in Ireland too. They are repeating a tactic that completely failed.

I'd completely forgotten that the Catholic Bishops of England & Wales have already tried this tactic. They tried to bluff Parliament. The bishops' barrister Prof Christopher McCrudden 'told MPs and peers that, unless urgent changes are made, Catholic bishops may have to reconsider whether priests can carry on performing weddings, in effect, on behalf of the state.' 

'May have to reconsider' is the clue that they think it's not really a serious possibility they will boycott the civil marriage paperwork. If it was seriously likely, they would have said 'will have to reconsider'.

The problem, he said, is that under a system in place since 1895, Catholic priests act as an "authorised person" to marry couples in place of a registrar. [Since Ireland was then part of the UK, a version of this was used in Ireland. After Independence in 1922, much of the existing British-Irish administrative practice continued unchanged. The system worked.] 

The lawyer tried to persuade Parliament that being the "authorised person" left priests and the church open to possible claims of discrimination if the priests didn't allow LGBT couples to also marry in Church. 

The government had anticipated this and the Bill contained a cunning series of "locks" to block any legal manoevres over marriage in any and all churches, synagogues, temples, mosques etc., on the grounds of LGBT discrimination. The main devices were that it was only 'civil' marriage law that was being changed, no religious building of any denomination could be used for any civil marriage, and no minister of any denomination could be compelled to officiate at any civil wedding.

Really it was all a Catholic bishops' and lawyers' heterosexual marriage panic attack.

Less scrupulous lawyers can earn more in legal fees by rather hyping things. There are always hours of time needed to research what might happen. Certainly Parliament heard a lot of fantastical scenarios from the churches and their lawyers. As Parliamentary lobbyists, they were amateurs, and Parliament skewered their nonsense in the evidence sessions.

So the Catholic bluff in Britain to stop doing any civil marriage paperwork was simply allowed to wither on the vine, by the church. They didn't get any more "locks" added to the several written into the law to prevent church weddings.

"No, not at all," a spokesperson for the Catholic Church in England and Wales told the Journal, when we asked if there had been any moves to change policy in the area. 

"No," a spokesperson at the Scottish Catholic Media Office said.

I think Ireland can relax about their Catholic bishops' bluff to do the same.

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