By Susan Gately - 11 April, 2015
A cross-denominational document produced last month to inform people about the upcoming referendum on same sex marriage and signed by fifty Church leaders has highlighted the split on the issue in the Church of Ireland.
‘Same Sex Marriage – a cross denominational response’ puts forward the No case in the marriage referendum.
It is signed by fifty church leaders and people working in ministry from the Catholic, Church of Ireland, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal and Redeemed Church of Christ Churches.
Included among its signatories are Church of Ireland Bishop of Kilmore, Ferran Glenfield and Church of Ireland Archdeacon David Huss from Donegal.
In February, the Church of Ireland stated that its official position on the referendum was not to direct members on how to vote. “The Church encourages people to vote according to their conscience.”
Three years ago, in May 2012 the General Synod of the Church of Ireland general synod held that: “marriage is . . . a union permanent . . . for better or worse, till death do them part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side”.
However, last year in an interview with the BBC, the Bishop of Cork, the Rt Rev Paul Colton said he supported “civil same-sex marriage,” adding “I also recognise the Church of Ireland’s definition of marriage is for itself and I adhere to that discipline.”
The ‘cross denominational response’ document is also signed by Catholic bishop of Elphin, Dr Kevin Doran and healing nun, Sr Briege McKenna and charismatic leader, Sr Bridget Dunne.
Other signatories are Alpha leader Paddy Monaghan and Tine Network leaders, Tim and Kathy Nichols and many pastors and leaders of Pentecostal, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches.
The eight page document (https://irishelectionliterature.wordpress.com) looks at the proposed amendment to Article 41 of the Constitution: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”
“On the surface this may appear a very attractive proposal. We all believe that every human being is made in the image of God and is equal in value and dignity, regardless of gender, age, race or sexual orientation. Without reservation, we would also want to make it clear that the persecution or oppression of any person because of their sexual orientation is absolutely wrong,” the document states.
“However, all this being said,” continues the document, “we the undersigned cannot support the proposed amendment.”
They go on to outline their reasons. The key issues is not equality, it is the “nature of marriage itself”, they write.
In the constitution, the family is seen as the “necessary basis of social order and indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State”.
Any attempt to change the meaning of marriage to embrace same sex unions is an attack on marriage.
“This change would deny the importance our society places on the complimentary roles of mothers and fathers in raising children.”
A Yes vote will undermine the principle of equality by “applying it inappropriately to two fundamentally different types of relationship,” says the document.
The Church leaders respect “the right of same sex couples to have their relationships protected in law, but “reject the idea that this union shall be regarded as the same as marriage.”
There are two issues here, they say – the equality of different people, and the equality of different relationships.
“The real question is whether same sex relationships differ significantly from opposite sex relationships and the answer is ‘yes’. The largest difference is that same sex couples cannot procreate children, nor ensure a child’s basic right to be raised by his / her mother and father. We are talking about two very different types of relationships. It is wrong therefore to assume the state should treat them as if they were the same.”
The document goes on to quote from Scripture and Church documents from the Church of Ireland, Methodist and Catholic churches which affirm marriage as a union of a man and woman.
Asking can the referendum be defeated, the document points to previous referenda all over the world. 37 have taken place internationally so far. 34 in US states, and three in Europe – in Slovakia, Croatia and Slovenia. All the European referenda have been defeated. Only three of the US referenda have been carried.
The Church leaders ask for prayers and that the Irish people will be guided by the Holy Spirit when they vote.