Thursday, May 21, 2015

As Ireland Heads to Vote Tomorrow, Valuable Last-Minute Wrap-Ups About the Irish Marriage Referendum

As Ireland prepares to vote on a referendum to change its constitution so that the constitutional definition of marriage includes same-sex civil marriage, many journals and newspapers are issuing "briefings" and overviews of the issues on this final day before the vote. I've cut some snippets out of several of these for your to read. As you'll see, my focus has been on commentary dealing with the issue of Ireland's Catholic identity and what that means for the vote tomorrow.

The passage of the Irish referendum would be confirmation of a dramatic cultural shift in a traditionally socially-conservative country; homosexuality was only decriminalised in Ireland in 1993 – compared to 1967 for England and Wales, 1980 for Scotland, and 1982 for Northern Ireland – and civil partnerships were made legal in 2010, six years after the UK.

But isn’t Ireland a socially conservative Catholic country that is beholden to the Catholic Church? 
Attitudes have changed immensely in the last 30 years. The authority of the Catholic Church has been undermined by a litany of scandals from the abuse of children by priests to abusive regimes at church-run institutions such schools and homes. The Church wants to see a "No" vote, but an institution that protected abusive priests for decades no longer has the moral force it once had.

Also in Time, an essay by M. V. Lee Badgett noting that "very-Catholic Ireland may beat the somewhat-secular United States to the finish line on same-sex marriage":

If the polls are correct, . . .Ireland will be the first country in the world to give same-sex couples the right to marry through a popular vote. That this political milestone could happen in a Catholic country will have global implications. Ireland will join a handful of more secular Catholic countries that allow same-sex couples to marry—Spain, Portugal, France, and Argentina. But Ireland will be the one with a blueprint for a successful national campaign to take to Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Philippines and other more conservative Catholic countries as marriage equality continues to spread around the world.

Daniel Hurst in The Guardian interviews Rodney Croome, the national director of Australian Marriage Equality (AME), who states,

Many Australians will feel ashamed that same-sex couples can marry in a traditionally conservative country like Ireland but not in Australia. Many Australians will feel ashamed that our international reputation is suffering and will suffer more because we are lagging behind comparable countries. 
It is bad enough for us to fall behind New Zealand and Britain but to fall behind Ireland when Ireland has traditionally been the most socially conservative developed English speaking country is deeply embarrassing.

The New York Times is running a feature entitled "Same-Sex Marriage and the Future of Irish Catholicism" with noteworthy commentary by various people: Bernadette Flanagan, a Sister of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary who's at All Hallows College in Dublin, writes,

Irish Catholicism owes more today to the lived inclusive practice of the population than to restrictive patriarchal narratives that have long held sway. And the future of that identity is often being forged within women-led faith services and centers of spiritual practice, rather than in traditional clerical institutions. 
The people of Ireland have a sophisticated approach to the practice of faith in life. Many have moved beyond conventional patterns of adherence to a faith community. The abuse crisis rather than ending faith practice in Ireland though has led to a post-conventional expression of faith. Gone is the emphasis on rules and regulations as the hallmark of membership. 

And Oliver Rafferty of Boston College says,  

If the electorate rejects the advice of the Irish bishops and votes for gay marriage, it will indicate that the influence of Irish institutional Catholicism in the public square is virtually at an end. A church that once commanded the respect and allegiance of the vast majority of the Irish people will have been humiliated in a matter of Catholic morality by a people who, in the Republic of Ireland, still overwhelmingly self-identify (more than 80 percent) as Catholic. Catholicism will continue to have some disputed role in educational, medical and social service provision, but its dominance of Irish social and political opinion will be at an end.

At Al-Jazeera, Barbara McCarthy interviews a selection of people on both sides, who explain why they are opposed to or support permitting same-sex couples in Ireland the right of civil marriage.

My takeaway: people thinking about what's taking place in Ireland right now should not miss that the strong suppor for affording same-sex couples the right to civil marriage is rooted in the Catholic beliefs and values of many Irish people. Regardless of what actually happens with tomorrow's vote, that's a point that should not be overlooked. In many very traditional Catholic cultures, there is a deep strand of support for people on the margins, and for solidarity with those people, which is lacking in American "liberal" culture with its emphasis (derived from the nation's foundational Protestant cultural roots) on atomic individualism that owns no connection of one of us to the other.

The graphic: a 2010 satellite image of Ireland by Jeff Schmaltz of NASA's Earth Observatory, available for sharing at Wikimedia Commons.

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