The Religious Case for Marriage Equality: Conference at TCD

faithinmarriageequalityYesterday the group ‘Faith in Marriage Equality’ and the Irish School of Ecumenics hosted a conference on ‘The Religious Case for Marriage Equality’ at Trinity College Dublin.

Colin Gleeson’s Irish Times report on the event leads with the headline: “Catholic Church ‘will pay price’ for stance on gay marriage,” attributed to sociologist Richard O’Leary. He predicted a ‘smaller, anti-gay church’ could emerge from the referendum.

Recently a Dutch journalist interviewed me about the upcoming referendum and asked how I thought it would go. I said that it is well known that a majority of the Irish public – about 70% at the time of the Constitutional Convention (where a referendum on the issue was recommended) and a similar number now – support marriage equality. I said I would be very surprised if the electorate rejected it, for a number of reasons:

  • It is perhaps a cliché, but many Irish people know people who are LGBT, and once relationships are established, it is harder to vote against friends rather than for an abstract idea (such as the idea promoted by the Catholic Church and some other churches that same-sex marriage is wrong).
  • The civil partnership bill of 2010 has further ‘normalised’ same-sex relationships in the public’s eyes. (Remember, the offense of ‘buggery’ was not decriminalised till 1993. And there is still significant homophobia in Ireland; Senator Eamonn Coghlan’s recent interview with RTE presenter Marian Finucane about his gay son’s experiences in Ireland testify to that. His son emigrated to the United States in part, it seems, due to bullying and homophobic attacks.)
  • Irish citizens, even some practising Catholics, just don’t agree with their Church’s teachings on homosexuality.
  • Other Irish citizens (Catholic or other Christians) may agree with their Church’s teachings on homosexuality, but do not think that it is appropriate for a church’s definition of marriage to be enshrined in civil law.

Prof Linda Hogan, Vice Provost of TCD and a theologian with the Irish School of Ecumenics, is quoted in the Irish Times article giving a theological case for same sex marriage:

 “Theologically speaking, there are no impediments to gay and lesbian people marrying in a civil ceremony. … People of faith can exercise their freedom of conscience to vote yes to lesbian and gay people marrying in a civil ceremony.

… This debate is being framed as religious people being no voters with everyone else voting yes. This couldn’t be further from the truth. People of all faiths support sharing the freedom to marry with gay and lesbian couples.”

She added that concepts from religious traditions such as “dignity, justice, equality, human flourishing and well-being” could be used by yes voters as religious resources in public debates about the referendum:

“This is the basis on which the moral case for marriage equality based on religious values can be established.”

Gladys is a Research Fellow in the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast. She also blogs on religion and politics at