South inches toward gay marriage – what about full secularisation?

Watching Pat Kenny last night on RTÉ One while reading my Twitter feed I was struck by something: my own Northern smugness. As an adopted Southerner (long story, very dull) I naturally assumed that the great advances the South has seen in recent decades meant that people here were, more or less, as secularised as they are in the North. It would appear not. Many comments appeared on my screen that mirrored those made by Kenny’s audience: people were shocked and dismayed by the Church’s actions and were seemingly surprised that the Catholic Church is an authoritarian institution. I know few people in the North, Catholic, Protestant or otherwise, for whom such an idea would qualify as news.

This got me thinking: maybe Ireland isn’t as secularised as I thought – perhaps the slow abandonment of the pews has not, in fact, resulted in secularisation, but instead mere confusion.

But then, how does this square with the widespread support for same-sex civil unions? One market research firm claims that 80 per cent of the public in the South support the extension of civil marriage to gay couples.

The Dáil recently read a Bill that is likely to see the recognition of same-sex civil unions by the end of the month. I’ve mused on this issue a few times, most recently in CiF, arguing that the state should get out of our lives altogether. A representative for a lobby group said to me today (in an e-mail) “Ultimately I think that the [recognition of same-sex civil marriage] argument has to come to fruition first because yours is longer away and we can’t wait that long.”* That may well be true.

What I’d like to know, though, is whether or not the South remains hidebound by its Catholic past, despite being otherwise a modern and secular country. Any thoughts?

* Edit: What he meant was, my argument against state involvement in marriage.