Decisions ahead for Irish churches after country adopts same-sex marriage

by Gregory Tomlin |

(REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton)A couple walks hand in hand from the count centre in Dublin as Ireland holds a referendum on gay marriage May 23, 2015. Ireland appears to have voted heavily in favour of allowing same-sex marriage in a historic referendum that marks a dramatic social shift in the traditionally Catholic country, government ministers and opponents of the bill said on Saturday.

DUBLIN (Christian Examiner) -- Ireland became the first nation to adopt same-sex marriage by popular vote May 22 after a months-long campaign by advocates of traditional marriage to preserve the institution failed.

The referendum drew more than 1.2 million people to the polls for the vote, which has now shifted once-conservative Ireland squarely into the liberal column with nations like Sweden, Denmark, Norway and France.

We would now sincerely urge a spirit of public generosity, both from those for whom the result of the referendum represents triumph, and from those for whom it signifies disaster.
- Church of Ireland leaders

The victory of the "yes" movement, with 62 percent of vote, means Article 41 of Ireland's constitution will be changed to include a statement that persons of the same-sex can no longer be prohibited from marriage, the BBC reported.

After the government enacts its new marriage bill in the Irish parliament, gay couples could be able to marry as early as September.

Ireland's largest churches, the Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church, have said they accept the right of the people to adopt the laws they wish, but they will not conduct same-sex marriages.

The archbishop and bishops of the Church of Ireland, part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, issued a joint statement following the vote saying the church still defines marriage as a union between a man and a women "and the result of the referendum does not alter this."

"The church has often existed, in history, with different views from those adopted by the state, and has sought to live with both conviction and good relationships with the civil authorities and communities in which it is set," the statement said. "Marriage services taking place in a Church of Ireland church, or conducted by a minister of the Church of Ireland may – in compliance with church teaching, liturgy and canon law – continue to celebrate only marriage between a man and a woman."

"We would now sincerely urge a spirit of public generosity, both from those for whom the result of the referendum represents triumph, and from those for whom it signifies disaster," Church of Ireland leaders said.

Catholic Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said those who voted "no" in the referendum had acted out of principle.

"People, I hope, will respect that," Martin told RTE News.

The archbishop also said the church has a "huge task in front of it" as it seeks to deal with the scenarios the new law will create and the clear generation gap between older, conservative Catholics and younger, more liberal ones.

"I think the Church needs to do a reality check, right across the board, to look at the things it is doing well and to look at the areas that we really have drifted away completely from young people," Martin said.

The archbishop, however, seemed to issue a challenge to the church at large which many in the gay community could perceive as conciliatory. Martin said the church was becoming "a safe space for the like-minded rather than the church Pope Francis is talking about, which is reaching out."

Francis has said homosexuals may well find places of service in the Roman Catholic, but he has said the church's teachings on human sexuality and traditional marriage will not be abandoned. Martin also said the Catholic Church in Ireland would not renounce its teachings.

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ireland and the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland both encouraged members to vote "no" in the referendum, but have yet to issue statements following the vote.

Gay rights advocates now have their sights set on Northern Ireland, the only remaining part of the United Kingdom to prohibit the practice. According to the Belfast Independent, a rally in support of "equal marriage" will be held in Belfast June 13. Amnesty International and the gay rights group The Rainbow Project are organizing the rally.

Twenty nations worldwide now make allowances for same-sex marriage. In Western Europe, those include Belgium, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Scotland, Spain and Sweden.