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Bishops urge MLAs to reject marriage equality

By Sarah Mac Donald - 29 April, 2014

Motion implies ties between a child and its mother and father have no intrinsic value for child.

StormontThe Catholic bishops of Northern Ireland have intervened in the debate over same sex marriage in the NI Assembly urging MLAs to reject ‘marriage equality’.

In an open letter to all MLAs, the bishops ask them to “reaffirm the unique value to children and society of the mutual and complementary roles of a mother and father.”

They also ask MLAs not to undermine the principle of equality by applying it inappropriately to two fundamentally different types of relationship.

The bishops also appeal to the MLAs “to reject the forthcoming motion on what the motion describes, inappropriately, as ‘Marriage Equality’.”

The letter is signed by Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh; Bishop Anthony Farquhar, Auxiliary Bishop of Down & Connor; Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh; Bishop John McAreavey of Dromore; Bishop Liam McDaid of Clogher; Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry and Bishop Noel Treanor of Down & Connor.

Later today (29 April) the Stormont Assembly will debate a private members’ motion under the title ‘Marriage Equality’.

The motion invites MLAs to support the view that “all couples, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, should have the same legal entitlement to marry and to the protections, rights, obligations and benefits afforded by the legal institution of marriage”.

In their letter, the bishops state that as a Church “we believe every person is equal in the sight of God and should always be treated with dignity and respect.”

Referring to the Gospel, they underline that they “oppose all unjust discrimination, harassment and violence and are committed to working for the common good in which the needs of the vulnerable, the marginalised and the poor are of fundamental concern.”

They say they are writing to the MLAs out of concern that the ‘Marriage Equality’ motion undermines a key foundation of that common good.

“We say this not only out of religious conviction, but also as a matter of human reason. Religious and non-religious people alike have long acknowledged and know from their experience that the family, based on the marriage of a woman and a man, is the best and ideal place for children.”

They added that it is “a fundamental building block of society which makes a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the common good. It is therefore deserving of special recognition and promotion by the State.”

The bishops warn that the proposed ‘Marriage Equality’ motion before the Assembly “effectively says to parents, children and society that the State should not, and will not, promote any normative or ideal family environment for raising children.”

They add that the motion implies that the biological bond and natural ties between a child and its mother and father have no intrinsic value for the child or for society.

“As Pope Francis stated recently, ‘we must reaffirm the right of children to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity,’(16 April 2014)” they state.

However, the Northern bishops acknowledge that there will always be situations in which the best interests of a particular child can only be met in a different type of arrangement.

“It is important that the State provides for and gives practical support to these arrangements. This is different, however, from saying that having children raised by their biological parents in a life-long committed marriage is no longer essential to the common good and deserving of special recognition by the State.”

“Even where a husband and wife cannot have children of their own, the nature of their marriage can still provide a mother and a father to a child in adoption or fostering. We believe that the State should urgently provide more and better services in support of marriage in which mothers and fathers can provide the optimum loving and stable environment for children to grow and flourish.”

Elsewhere in their letter, the bishops clam the ‘Marriage Equality’ motion misuses the principle of equality.

“It is a fact of nature that same-sex unions are fundamentally and objectively different from the complementary sexual union of a woman and a man which is of itself naturally open to life. It is not discrimination for the State to treat different types of relationship differently.”

“The European Convention on Human Rights does not recognise same-sex ‘marriage’ as a right and the European Courts have consistently upheld the right and freedom of member States not to redefine marriage in this way.”

The bishops underline that the issue is “not therefore a question of ‘rights’ or ‘equality’ but of recognising the objective difference between these two types of relationship.”

They add that same-sex relationships are already comprehensively provided for in Northern Ireland legislation through recognition as civil-partnerships and associated equality legislation.

“We ask you to reaffirm the unique value to children and society of the mutual and complementary roles of a mother and father, committed to a loving and life-long relationship to each other in marriage.”

“We ask you promote the value of children being brought up, where possible and in their best interests, by their biological parents. We ask you not to undermine the principle of equality by applying it inappropriately to two fundamentally different types of relationship.”

“We ask you to strengthen and support marriage between a woman and a man as a unique and highly valued institution of vital importance to the good of society.”

“We therefore appeal to you to reject the forthcoming motion on what the motion describes, inappropriately, as ‘Marriage Equality’.”

The bishops conclude their letter by stating that the Catholic Church, with many other Christian Churches, regards marriage as a positive, joyful and life-giving institution that deserves special care and recognition.

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