DUBLIN, Ireland (Christian Examiner) – Evangelical Christians and older, conservative Roman Catholics are banding together in hopes of stopping a referendum Friday that will make Ireland the first European country to approve gay marriage by popular vote.
According to the UK's Guardian newspaper, several prominent liberal Roman Catholic priests and nuns have broken ranks with the church and asked for a "yes" vote to open up the institution of marriage to same-sex couples.
Their move is in clear defiance of the teachings of the Catholic Church and Pope Francis, who said in the Philippines last year the church would not abandon its traditional teachings on human sexuality and the family.
During Sunday services, Roman Catholic bishops throughout Ireland, traditionally one of Europe's most conservative countries, read a letter encouraging parishioners to vote "no" in the referendum. Archbishop Eamon Martin also made a statement in support of the traditional view of marriage.
Martin, who leads all of Ireland's Catholics, said in a Sunday homily the church did not want to offend gays and lesbians. It simply wanted "to respect the dignity of difference between male and female."
"We want to protect and promote the uniqueness of that special relationship between a wife, a husband and their children which is sanctified by Our Creator, endorsed by Jesus, and which is such a powerful and prophetic beacon of hope for society," Martin said in the sermon.
If polls are correct, stopping same-sex marriage from becoming law may be difficult. According to a May 16 poll in the Irish Times newspaper, the "no" party – which seeks to preserve traditional marriage by preventing changes to the definition of family in the government's constitution – was trailing by a margin of 2-1, Reuters reported.
However, another poll said the age group with the highest voter turnout in Ireland – those over 65 years of age – were hardly being counted. That group is generally strongly conservative and will likely vote en masse against legalizing same-sex marriage.
Some 200,000 immigrants from the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Africa will also play a role in the election. Many of the African immigrants are evangelical Christians who promise their efforts will narrow the polling gap and give traditional marriage a victory May 22.
Homosexuality was a crime punishable by fines and prison terms in Ireland until 20 years ago. Now, the country is ready to accept it, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kerry told the Sunday Independent May 17.
Kerry said the country's attitude began to change in 2009, when the government recognized the rights of same-sex couples. Since, the country has continued to evolve as his own opinions have, he said.
"For me, personally, it's been a journey," Kerry, a Catholic, told the Sunday Independent. "Twenty-five years ago, I wouldn't have had the sort of level of understanding of the extent of the involvement in our community of people who are gay ... The world has changed utterly."
The Guardian has alleged Christian organizations in the United States have been flooding pro-traditional marriage organizations in Ireland with cash to fund their campaign. Groups like the Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage deny the accusation.
Ireland's Standards in Public Office Commission, which monitors elections in the country, also has not reported foreign contributions to the "no" campaign.