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.

  • slug

    You come from the North? Explains a lot…

  • Mack

    Jason –

    It probably depends on your social circle north and south. Having made the same journey, my perception is that the south is more secular than the north not less. When we went to get our daughter baptised last year, in a parish that was 92% Catholic the priest stated only 12% went to mass – at all – throughout the year.

  • Jason Walsh

    slugNot quite but almost. Hard to explain.

    Mack

    Good point.

  • Rory Carr

    “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.

    It might indeed be true, Jason, but, as no matter what way we read the sentence, it still makes no sense at all it is a wee bit difficult to judge. I am still trying to make sense of “yours is longer away and we can’t wait that long”. Your what? Wait that long for what?

    As to whether or not attitudes have changed I think we will find that they have but as in other societies the ghost of old shibboleths remain long after the wake and interrment of the body of thought. This becomes more apparent when the old and formerly cherished beliefs are once more produced for attack. The human instinct is to once again defend the old hard-wired beliefs either in a subconcious, kneejerk reaction or out of a need to somehow justify the very fact that one once held firmly to ideas now outmoded. No one likes to believe that they were “a bad person” once or that they were foolish to hold such ideas. It’s a bit like someone discovering a Smiths album among our music collection, rather than laugh about it and admit that we were once a sad git among a peer group of even sadder gits, we attempt to justify it and indeed even to resort to paens of praise for distorted genius and the like. God! if we could only hear ourselves.

    p.s. I hasten to add that I have never owned a Smiths album and anyone who suggests otherwise will be hearing from my solicitor.

  • Tq

    The south is secular but it suffers from an ability to remove or change institutional power.

    This stasis in reflected in the contuniung of institutions like the church even though the church has lost its authority and its influence amongst the general population.

  • Jason Walsh

    Rory

    “Your what? Wait that long for what?”

    My argument in CiF today that the state should have as little to do with marriage as possible. Apologies for confusion, will fix.

  • Tochais Siorai

    For the state, the church is like a relationship that you know in your heart has to end. You don’t love her any more, maybe you don’t even like her, she embarrasses you in public and she thinks she controls you.

    But a break up is going to be awkward, the relationship has been going on so long how would you cope on your own, there’d be problems with selling the house (who owns it anyway?), it’s cheaper that the bills are shared, and hey, she does offer a certain comfort at times.

    But you know it has to end and the longer you keep putting it off, the worse it’ll get.

  • Garza

    “It probably depends on your social circle north and south. Having made the same journey, my perception is that the south is more secular than the north not less. When we went to get our daughter baptised last year, in a parish that was 92% Catholic the priest stated only 12% went to mass – at all – throughout the year.”

    Mack secularisation has nothing to do with church attendance. It is defined as how much power a church has in political decisions.

    As it has been shown recently, the catholic church did hold some sway over the Dail. All the power the church of England has is an Archbishop making foolish statements on the radio.

  • sunnysoutheast

    I agree with Garza in the sense with Fg and FF there is still a submission towards church values but as the older generations of politicians civil servants finally are put out to pasture you will see a greater change. The child abuse scandals have damaged the church the followers left will be more right wing and less representative of the general populace than ever before. But the factor which will push it most is the urbanisation of the south. The rural values are declining which were FF/FG GAA and Church. The problem is the followers of this creed are fighting tooth and nail to defend a monolith that is steadily crumbling to dust. This is a case where the political elite in a last gasp fights but makes it worst for itself,

  • Toffee Nose

    Good for the gays and condom sellers (not that the former are big users of the latter). Still, anything that brings Mother Church/State into disrepute……….

  • Mack

    Garza

    Mack secularisation has nothing to do with church attendance. It is defined as how much power a church has in political decisions.

    Consider it a leading indicator then.

  • Garza

    No mack it isn’t. The US is probably the most secular country in the West, no church has power. Yet their church attendance is through the roof.

    Northern Ireland – for the moment, is more secular that the Republic.

  • Mack

    Garza –

    Excuse me, but didn’t you have a church leader as First Minister about 12 months ago? Don’t church ministers sit in your parliament?

    And yes, in this case, it most certainly is a leading indicator..

  • Garza

    True, but what power does a church have as an organisation on stormount?

    Tell me how church attendance has an affect on secularisation “in this case”?

  • Mack

    It’s indicative of a society becoming more secular overtime. Politicians as a group are older than society as a whole, as are the lobbyists of CORI and the charities such as St. Vincent de Paul.

    I haven’t noticed much of an impact in terms of church thinking on Irish law, the trend generally appears to be much more strong in terms of liberalisation.

    True, but what power does a church have as an organisation on stormount?

    I’d have though Paisley exerted more influence, either in the parliament or in the negogiations (St. Andrews etc). And the churches broadly have had a big influence on the development of the political process in the north – whether on the streets (Drumcree, Holy Cross) or in peace talks and facilitations. Various other political processes (e.g. Eames-Bradley).

    But within a generation, south of the border, whatever residual influence the church and her lobbyists have will be massively diminished.

  • Border Fox

    @rory

    I was half way through constructing an answer to the original post and came across your reference to The Smiths. I was taken aback and went into a period of contemplation.

    Gave up on my answer about secularisation at that point as it was sort of about the residual retention of the attitudes indocrinated in me by the church and then I realised i had retained the attitudes indoctrinated in me by The Smiths….

  • Greenflag

    garibaldi ,

    ‘All the power the church of England has is an Archbishop making foolish statements on the radio.’

    Apart from that doesn’t Archie get to anoint the Head of the Church herself /himself on his/her accession ?

    I think you have a point but I would think a cleric has a much better chance of ‘election’ to the NI Assembly than any cleric would have in the Republic . I believe there are two in the present Assembly and previously there was the Rev Martyn Smyth at one time ?

    ‘ The US is probably the most secular country in the West, no church has power’

    That would depend on how you define power . It’s recognised by most American political commentators that the born again evangelicals helped to propell President Bush past Al Gore in the 2000 election and also past Kerry in the 2004 election . The ‘failure’ of McCain to win over much of that support was part of the reason for his failure to defeat Obama . Currently the RC Church is flexing it’s muscles in trying to prevent the American poor (of all faiths and none ) from having access to abortion services under any public option plan .

    It’s not just Father Jack or the GOP neo cons who ‘hate ‘ the poor eh 😉

  • There’s a good economic stimulus argument for equal marriage – in current economic times many people will be deferring marriage and thus increasing the eligible cohort will help prop up cake makers, ballrooms and wedding bands (although I wouldn’t mind seeing the latter go through hard times).

    As a Canadian resident, I can assure Sluggerites the sky has not fallen since equal marriage was first decreed by the provincial courts and subsequently legislated for.

  • Coll Ciotach

    they hate the poor so much they will not kill them

  • george

    “My argument in CiF today that the state should have as little to do with marriage as possible.”

    Except that marriage is nothing more than a legal contract. The consequences of any breach will have to be borne by the State so of course the State has to have more than a little to do with it.

    One market research firm claims that 80 per cent of the public in the South support the extension of civil marriage to gay couples.

    One market research firm survey does not a pass a referendum make.

    The biggest issue with the granting of civil marriage to same-sex couples is that such a move would most likely require a referendum.

    Then the good Irish burghers would be asked if they voted yes to gay adoption as that is part and parcel of the rights for married couples.

    I honestly don’t see such a referendum being passed, despite how secular people think the Republic is.

  • Greenflag

    coll ciotach ,

    ‘they hate the poor so much they will not kill them’

    That’s right -they prefer to keep them alive so they can torture and abuse them 🙁

    You are one naive gobshite cc 🙁

  • OC

    “Except that marriage is nothing more than a legal contract”

    In some common-law jurisdictions, married couples can own property through Tenancy by the Entirety.

    “A tenancy by the entirety (sometimes called a tenancy by the entireties) is a type of concurrent estate formerly available only to married couples, where ownership of property is treated as though the couple were a single legal person.”

    So there are cases where a contract between non-married “spouses” can’t be duplicated to be exactly the same as if they were married, at least not easily.