, president of the Irish Mission of Seventh-day Adventists
On May 22, the people of Ireland voted in a referendum to consider the matter of marriage equality. With a 62 percent 'yes' vote, Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage through a referendum.
Newspaper headlines following the vote claimed "An Historic Watershed for Our Country" (Sunday Business Post), "Ireland Is a Happier Place for Saying Yes" (Sunday Independent), and "Ireland Is a Kinder, Fairer Country After Voting With Its Heart" (The Observer).
What lay behind the vote?
In the 1937 Irish State Constitution, the nation was described as a “Catholic State for a Catholic people.” For decades afterward, church and state ruled as one with an iron grip. Social conservatism was communicated weekly in the pulpit through the local parish priest.
But then came repeated child sexual abuse allegations that were ignored or covered up by the church. The decline was steep, fast, and furious, and a social revolution came with it.
Bear in mind that contraception was prohibited from 1935 to 1980, homosexuality was a crime until 1993, and divorce was permitted only after 1996. Still today, abortion is available only in the most limited of circumstances.
Having lost its moral authority, the church was most furiously challenged by the current taoiseach, or prime minister, Enda Kenny. In a move to clearly separate the state from the church, he declared himself "a Taoiseach who is Catholic but not a Catholic Taoiseach."
Angrily chastising the church in 2011 for its feeble response to child abuse, Kenny said, "This is not Rome. This is the Republic of Ireland 2011, a republic of laws." He blamed the response on "the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism — and the narcissism — that dominate the culture of the Vatican."
The moment those words were spoken, the Catholic state for a Catholic people was over.
With a neutered church, and without the moral foundation of Scripture, it was not difficult for Irish people to say “yes” to same-sex marriage. Sure enough, Irish young adults voted “yes” on May 22, but so did thousands of older and rural Irish. While unsure about the new social order, they remembered fighting for “equality” in times past. It hurt deeply being discriminated against in London during the 1950s and 1960s just for being Irish. They didn’t want their children and grandchildren to experience the same pain. In that sense, Ireland really did vote with its heart.
The “yes” campaign caught the mood of a people longing for a modern and progressive Ireland, free of social oppression.
The “no” campaign and its main messages — “A Mother's Love is Irreplaceable” and “Two Men Can't Replace a Mother's Love” — often struggled to get heard. The “no” supporters faced a challenge communicating their belief in “traditional marriage” between male and female. With religious faith grounded in the tradition of the church, the biblical view of marriage was all but silenced by the louder voices of equality and justice for all.
All the same, one in every three votes were “no” in the referendum.
In response to the vote, the Catholic archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, said, "We have to stop and have a reality check, not move into denial of the realities."
Assurances have been given that clergy will not be forced to conduct gay weddings.
How can the Irish Mission of Seventh-day Adventists respond? A statement on same-sex marriage was released prior to the referendum. Following the referendum, in these moments of seismic religious and social change both in Irish and Northern Irish society, prayer without ceasing seems more than appropriate:
You once said through your Son Jesus, ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’
As we continue to trust you and your revealed Word through Holy Scripture, help us to see in sharper focus the beauty and truth of Your character. Renew in us a respect and love of your law as seen in and through the life and teachings of Christ.
Provide us with a fresh understanding of the gospel and the unconditional love you offer.
As we hold firm to the great teachings of Scripture, help us at the very same time to see and regard ‘the other,’ only ever through your eyes of mercy and compassion. Give us the wisdom to be quick to listen and slow to speak.
As our Catholic friends experience loss in the church, may they turn to your Word and discover the truth about you. May our faith be always strong, our hope always joyful but, above all, our love shine in Your name to all — without exception.
Thank you for your mercy and grace. Amen.”
This news commentary appeared on the British Union Conference’s website.