Society is changing at a rate of knots, as witnessed by the 62.1 per cent vote in the Irish Republic, supporting same-sex marriage. Who’d have thought 15 or 20 years ago, that such a conservative, staunchly Roman Catholic country would be a world leader in an overwhelming referendum for seismic change?
All religions, Church of Ireland to Catholic, Presbyterian to Methodist, are left to ponder if they have failed to keep abreast of changes in attitudes. The Catholic Church especially must ask itself why it retains the rule that priests are not permitted to marry, in the face of such revolutionary shifts in matrimonial opinion.
Observers are claiming that the Republic’s place in Europe and the paedophile scandals have had a major influence in the vote. Churches must be wondering how they can now reach out to the community at large and young people in particular.
Not so long ago, the reaction to such a vote from the major churches would have been swift and condemnatory. But the responses have been muted, even though most are opposed scripturally to same-sex marriage.
There are signs that even within the churches clergy and lay people are not entirely united. The Church of Ireland, for example, has choppy waters to negotiate. Its hierarchy still hasn’t made clear its official response to the 2011 civil ceremony of Dean Tom Gordon (originally from Portadown and now a clergyman down south) and distinguished musician Mark Dooley. Dean Gordon’s Bishop, Michael Burrows, approved of the civil union and has stated publicly he voted ‘yes’ last week.
Here in Portadown, the Rev Christina Bradley has lobbed a spanner into the works of Presbyterianism by saying, “This warm-hearted attitude is good to see in a world which often is a cold place as much for women in leadership as it is for gay and lesbian people in churches. I welcome the yes-vote”. Quite a contrast to the church’s official view that marriage “is exclusively between one man and one woman, which is the position we uphold and maintain”.
Mrs Bradley – like other women clerics in Presbyterianism - has been the subject of discrimination. Female ministers are often banned from the pulpits of the evangelical side. A situation that must be ended.
It’s unlikely that same-sex marriage will become the norm north of the border within the immediate future, with Northern Ireland (especially politically) still inhabiting the dark ages. But the Republic has much work to do in order to safeguard the children and both partners of the various new unions that will be created. It’s a veritable minefield.
The gay lobby has been congratulating itself since the 62 per cent victory, and good luck to them. But after years of noisy campaigning, marked by the sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut Asher cake issue, it’s time to let us all lead a quieter life.
As one minister told his congregation on Sunday, issues like world poverty and corporate greed are infinitely more evil than same-gender marriages. And Ireland won’t fall into the Atlantic as a result of the vote…