Irish Bishops Write Legislators on 'Marriage Equality'

«We ask you not to undermine the principle of equality by applying it inappropriately to two fundamentally different types of relationship»

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Here is an open letter to legislators from the bishops of Northern Ireland regarding a «marriage equality» motion.

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Dear Member of the Legislative Assembly,

Tomorrow, the 29 April, the Assembly will debate a Private Members’ Motion under the title “Marriage Equality”. This motion invites your support for 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”.

As a Church we believe every person is equal in the sight of God and should always be treated with dignity and respect.  Inspired by the Gospel, we 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.

We write to you today 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. 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 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. It therefore 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).

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.

The ‘Marriage Equality’ motion also 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. This is not therefore a question of ‘rights’ or ‘equality’ but of recognising the objective difference between these two types of relationship.

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 Catholic Church, with many other Christian Churches, regards marriage as a positive, joyful and life-giving institution that deserves special care and recognition. Should you wish to discuss our understanding of marriage or the views we have set out in this letter in more detail, please contact Father Timothy Bartlett by email at tim.bartlett(at)

With respect and encouragement for your important work as a public representative,

Yours faithfully,

Cardinal Seán Brady,

Archbishop of Armagh

Most Rev. Anthony Farquhar,

Auxiliary Bishop of Down & Connor

Most Rev. Eamon Martin,      

Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh

Most Rev. John McAreavey,                     

Bishop of Dromore

Most Rev. Liam McDaid,

Bishop of Clogher

Most Rev. Donal McKeown,                     

Bishop of Derry

Most Rev. Noel Treanor,

Bishop of Down & Connor

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