Wedding rings


Irish Bishops Proclaim Church's Teaching on Marriage in Lead-up to Friday Referendum

Through pastoral messages released individually and by episcopal conference, encourage voters to reflect carefully

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Voters in Ireland will decide Friday whether to change the Constitution to declare that legal marriage in the nation can be contracted between persons of the same sex.

In the lead-up to the vote, bishops have been explaining the Church’s teaching on marriage through pastoral letters and statements read at Masses. The bishops’ conference has released two major pastoral messages, as well as trying to reiterate the Church’s teaching through social media.

Martin Long, director of the bishops’ Catholic Communications Office, told ZENIT that «over the last year in particular bishops around Ireland have received requests from the faithful to explain the teaching of the Catholic Church on the sacrament of marriage.»

The bishops’ two messages, The Meaning of Marriage and Marriage is important – Reflect before you change it, were released in the last six months.

In their individual statements, the bishops have offered a variety of reflections on many facets of the referendum.

For example, Bishop Liam MacDaid of Clogher, noted concern for coming generations in his May 17 message: «Getting things right in this fundamental area of people’s lives would require the Wisdom of Solomon.  Getting it wrong will almost inevitably further destabilise the family and society; it will pose major problems for legislation and enforcement in a society where a rich understanding of marriage and family is already in place and rooted over centuries.  To appreciate the kind of difficulties that will arise we need only ask ourselves – in the proposed new dispensation what will we be expected to teach our children in school about marriage and the family?»

Children’s right to a mom and dad

Bishop Denis Brennan of Ferns noted the debate over the issue in the United States, reflecting: «The American Chief Justice John Roberts responding to proponents of same-sex marriage summed it up like this ‘you’re not seeking to join the institution, you’re seeking to change what the institution is.  The fundamental core of the institution is the opposite-sex relationship and you want to introduce into it a same-sex relationship.’ An essential characteristic of marriage is that it is open to the generation of new life and the union of man and woman in marriage is usually blessed with the gift of children.  Children have a natural right to a mother and a father.  Sometimes, unfortunately due to circumstances beyond everybody’s control this does not obtain, but this is quite different from legislating to make it impossible for some.»

Nature of humanity; more than love

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin emphasized the distinction and complementarity of men and women. «Marriage is linked with the family where mothers and fathers bring different, yet complementary gifts and strengths into a child’s life.  Marriage is not simply about a wedding ceremony or about two people being in love with each other. 

«I ask you to reflect on why humans exist as male and female?  It is not an accident or a social construct.  There is a unique complementarity between men and women, male and female, rooted in the very nature of our humanity.  I believe that this complementarity belongs to the fundamental definition of marriage.  The vast majority of States in Europe and worldwide interpret marriage in that sense. I encourage you to consider very carefully the profound implications which the constitutional amendment on marriage would have on the family and on our understanding of parenthood.»

Equal doesn’t mean same

Bishop Seamus Freeman SAC of Ossory affirmed the need to respect those with same-sex attraction, but reflected on the true meaning of equality: «There can be no doubt that those seeking a yes vote are motivated by love and care for their homosexual brothers and sisters and this is entirely good and Christian.   All of us must value each other and be caring and respectful.  We must honour the views of people who think differently to us, trusting that our own sincerely held views, grounded in faith, will also be heard and respected. 

«Our desire to protect marriage and the family as it is currently understood in the Constitution of Ireland is not intended to block or deny equality for others.  In fact, although it is presented as such, this Referendum is not about equality.   After all true equality recognises difference.

«In his recent teachings, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, stressed the importance of this when he speaks of the ‘the dignity of difference.’  He refers to the difference between men and women and the beautiful, God given plan of how their complementarity leads to the new life of children.  It is not a judgment on same-sex unions to say that they are intrinsically different to a union between a man and a woman.  Being different does not make us any lesser or unequal.   

«In fact, a real search for equality requires us to be truthful about differences so as to then ensure that we are just and compassionate in how we respond to these differences.  To vote “No” in this Referendum is not, therefore, contrary to the value of equality.  It is to be truthful about the genuine difference between a union of a man and a woman and a union between two people of the same sex.  To vote “No” is simply to remain true to the understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman.»

Gift of God

Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly of Cashel and Emly emphasized the religious dimension to the understanding of marriage. «This referendum on marriage is an opportunity for every person to reflect and perhaps to rediscover the richness and uniqueness of marriage based on the union of a man and a woman created to complement each other. It is an opportunity for Catholic married couples to strengthen their witness to a life based on the sacrament of marriage.

«In the first chapter of the Book of Genesis we read that from the beginning, God created human beings in His own image – ‘male and female’ – and commissioned them to ‘be fruitful’. Marriage is willed by God, and instituted and sanctified by God, to be the way in which God’s work of creation continues in the world. The gift of life, which flows from the intimate union of a man and woman in marriage, is a gift from God Himself.»

For a complete list of all the bishops’ statements, see:

Proclaiming the message

In addition to reaching out to the faithful, Long noted that the bishops have «also promoted the Church’s teaching on marriage through interviews with Church and secular media, both locally and nationally.»

If the «yes» vote wins, it will make Ireland the first nation to use a national referendum to recognize same-sex «marriage.»


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Kathleen Naab

United States

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