Here is an open letter sent Monday by the Catholic Bishops in Northern Ireland to members of the Legislative Assembly on the debate on ‘same-sex’ marriage.
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Dear Member of the Legislative Assembly,
Today, Monday 2 November, members of the Northern Ireland Assembly will debate a motion calling on the Northern Ireland Executive ‘to table legislation to allow for same-sex marriage’.
As pastors and teachers we have a responsibility to offer guidance to members of the Church and to participate with other citizens in debating the values and laws that ensure the authentic common good of society.
In public debate about the nature of marriage and the family it can sometimes be lost that the Church’s first words to all who experience homosexual attraction are those of love, understanding and a desire to journey supportively with all who follow Jesus with a sincere heart. The Church teaches that every person must be welcomed with respect for their dignity and with care to avoid “any form of unjust discrimination”(Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, 2003, n.4).
In the context of the forthcoming Assembly debate, we wish to express our particular concern that the motion presented provides no detail whatsoever of the scale or scope of the legislation being proposed. It is also completely silent on the vital issue of respect for individual religious conscience and protections for Churches and other religious groups. Those who vote in favour of this motion have no way of knowing what the full consequences of such a vote will be. What will be the impact for services provided by Churches and other faith groups that offer vital support to marriages and families in all kinds of distress and thereby contribute to the well-being of children and society? The failure of legislators to provide any form of protection for Catholic Church-related adoption agencies that have had to close in recent years is a stark warning to all who value the wide range of social and pastoral services that Churches provide. The motion being debated in the Assembly fails completely to protect the future of these services and their right to operate within the religious ethos from which they were founded and continue to provide a valued service to communities.
We ask you especially as a legislator to keep the rights and welfare of children to the forefront of your considerations when voting on the forthcoming motion. 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. The proposed 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). We also reiterate the objective truth, affirmed by the recent Synod on the Family, that “there is no foundation whatsoever to… establish an even remotely analogous correspondence between homosexual unions and God’s plan for marriage and the family“ (Synod 2015, Relatio Finalis, n.76).
The truth about marriage derives from its intrinsic nature as a relationship based on the complementarity of a man and woman and the unique capacity of this relationship alone to generate new life. This truth does not change with the shifting tides of historical custom or popular opinion.
Finally, we appeal to members of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly to give urgent priority to the many other issues that impact on children, marriage and the family in our society, including the continued failure to lift the distressing levels of child poverty in Northern Ireland, which are among the highest in Western Europe, and the immense stress being caused to many individuals, families and marriages because of proposed welfare cuts and the long term social disadvantage to which so many in Northern Ireland continue to be subjected.
With respect and encouragement for your important work as a public representative.
Archbishop of Armagh
Auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor
Bishop of Dromore
Bishop of Clogher
Bishop of Derry
Bishop of Down and Connor