On May 22nd, the people of Ireland made history by voting “yes” in the first national voter referendum on same-sex marriage in the world. How did a country that decriminalized homosexual behavior in 1993 and still identifies as 84.2% Roman Catholic makes its way to the forefront of marriage equality?
The results were in, with 62% in favor and 38% opposed to legalizing same-sex marriage. Voter turnout was also impressive, with over 60% of eligible voters coming out to the ballots. With the measure passed, the Irish Constitution will now read that two people can be married “without distinction as to their sex”. Ireland’s minister of state for equality, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, explains the significance of this exact wording, as it was the same phrase that was used to extend the right to vote to women. This now situates Ireland with the nearly twenty other countries that guarantee the right to marry to same-sex couples.
One of the most surprising responses after the voter response was the role that the Roman Catholic Church would play in this predominantly Christian nation. Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin explains how the Church needs a “reality check” after acknowledging that times have certainly changed. If the Church is to stay relevant with the views of the world’s youth, it may be in its best interest to keep a more open mind on many social issues that continue to define the Church as dogmatically trapped in a world of tradition as the society continues to progress.
One Irish priest knows this story all too well. The Rev. Tony Flannery was suspended by the Vatican in 2012 because of his social views. Last year, however, the Vatican gave him the opportunity to rejoin, so long as he would agree to “write, sign and publish a statement agreeing, among other things, that women should never be ordained as priests and that he would adhere to church orthodoxy on matters like contraception and homosexuality.” The prominent Irish priest ultimately decided against the measure, explaining that it would go against everything he stood for, adding, “I refuse to be terrified into submission.”
Flannery went on to explain how these were the issues that the youngest voters truly cared about, matters that the Roman Catholic Church would not budge on. “[This] was the first time Irish Catholics first questioned church teaching,” Flannery said. “That opened the door, and after that they increasingly began to question a whole raft of Catholic sexual teaching, and then the child sexual abuse scandal came along which destroyed church credibility in the whole area of sexuality,” Flannery explained.
In an increasingly secular age, many youths are less swayed by their religious convictions as previous generations may have been. According to a recent study, nearly one-third of adults under thirty are religiously unaffiliated. Those who are affiliated with conservative religious traditions but maintain the liberal social views of their peers must somehow reconcile the two, ultimately either deviating from their faith or redefining it altogether.
This article was written by Amar Ojha, founder and writer at dusk magazine.