The institutions of marriage

In the next couple of months or so, citizens of Ireland will be asked to decide on whether to permit all citizens to exercise their legal right to marry, regardless of gender. Support for this move is almost overwhelmingly in favour, and while all opinion polls on the issue indicate that Ireland is in favour of marriage equality, there are still those that believe it should remain illegal.

Loudest among the detractors in terms of both media exposure and fervent ideological opposition are the Iona Institute, or to give them their actual name, Lolek Ltd. They’ve presented many spurious reasons that equality for all citizens is a bad idea. First we were to believe that the referendum was about parental rights, even though this is an entirely different issue. To say that parenting is somehow connected to the legal technicalities of civil marriage is to pretend (or worse, deny) the simple fact that plenty of children in Ireland are already raised not as the video claims by “a mum and a dad”, but by two mums, two dads, just mum, just dad, a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle….the variations of loving family configurations in Ireland are endless, and have nothing to do with sexual preference and less to do with marriage. When this approach failed, Lolek stalwart Breda O Brien tried to scare us all with an imagined risk of incest, claiming that SSM will allow mothers to marry their daughters. Strangely she overlooked that this is no more possible or likely than mothers marrying their sons under current legislation, but why let logic or facts get in the way of wild scaremongering?

The most consistently trotted-out fabrication by Lolek and their ilk is that SSM somehow compromises the existing institution of marriage. This idea has, through silencing of critics and litigious media tactics, been allowed to propagate far beyond the reach of a few ultra-conservatives. It’s one that strikes at the concerns of thousands of Irish voters, the vast majority of whom either belong to or one day wish to be part of the institution of marriage. Who wouldn’t be worried that a law was somehow going to affect their family life? Here’s the thing though : it’s also utterly untrue, and overlooks one absolutely crucial fact.

There are two institutions of marriage. 

This referendum has absolutely nothing to do with the institution of marriage in the Catholic church or any other religious group. Nothing. Not a thing. Zero. Marriage in a church is a union between two people in the eyes of their god. The marriage we’re all voting on in 8 weeks time is state (or civil) marriage. State marriage joins two people in the eyes of the Republic, not God nor Allah nor Jahweh. Neither is more or less based on love, neither is more or less valuable to participants, but there’s a crucial difference between the two. Catholics get married under Catholic law in the eyes of the Catholic church, and how they choose to do so is determined by the Vatican. Irish citizens get married under Irish law, and when the people of Ireland decide it’s time for a change in the law, we get to vote on the issue. We don’t get to tell the Church how to conduct its business. If the Catholic church decides to keep its version of marriage exclusively for heterosexual couples, then sadly there’s nothing anyone outside the Pope can do about it because – for reasons that I won’t dwell on right now – religious organisations are exempt from existing equality legislation.

And that’s ok. Because the people of Ireland aren’t telling the Catholic church how to conduct its affairs. On the other hand, Lolek and co. are attempting to frame themselves as somehow representative of all Catholics in Ireland (most of whom are, like everyone else, in favour of a better life for all Irish people) in this debate. At the same time, they’re trying to frame the debate in terms of religious institutions, when in fact the vote is about a civil institution. It’s a massive game of misinformation and misdirection that’s being played, and sadly too many people seem to be buying what’s being sold.

What follows below is a short list of simple facts. They’re not based on spurious “scientific” studies funded outside the country by special interest groups. They’re not designed to push any kind of religious or political agenda. They’re just simple, hard-boiled statements with the added merit of being true.

  • This referendum will have no impact on any practice or custom of the Catholic church.
  • Church weddings will still have no relationship to civil wedding in the eyes of the laws of State or God.
  • This referendum has zero impact on adoptive or reproductive rights.
  • This referendum doesn’t have any impact on any existing marriage in any way shape or form.
  • If you’re a heterosexual, your rights are not altered in any way, shape or form.

There are now just over 9 weeks left in this debate. When you next see someone try to distract from or deny any of the above, call them out on it. If not for basic decency, then for the sheer joy of holding people in the public eye accountable.

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