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.”

  • Korhomme

    Diarmaid MacCullouch presented a programme on BBC2 a couple of days ago about the early church’s attitude to marriage. From the blurb:

    “In the first part of a major three-part series, the
    eminent theological historian Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch explores how
    Christianity has shaped western attitudes to sex, gender and sexuality
    throughout history. Travelling from Israel to Greece, Italy and Ireland,
    he begins by showing how the early Christians transformed sex from a
    biological necessity into a vice, from a pleasure into a sin. Even
    though Jesus Christ said very little about sex, Christianity soon
    promoted celibacy as the Christian ideal, turned sex into something
    dangerous and made even marriage second-best.”

    You can watch it on iPlayer here:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05ql6hf/sex-and-the-church-1-from-pleasure-to-sin

  • Turgon

    There is little evidence in Dr. Ganiel’s report (or in the Irish Times report) of any religious case let alone theological case being made for homosexual marriage. Normally those within churches arguing for homosexual marriage put forward theological analyses of The Bible / Christian tradition etc. but I am unclear if any of that was done. The comment on civil marriage is entirely correct but is a canard in a debate on the religious case for marriage.

    Also of course this is emphatically not marriage equality. It is homosexual marriage. It adds discrimination in favour of non biologically related same gender sexual partnerships to the already extant discrimination in favour of non biologically related opposite gender sexual partnerships (heterosexual marriage). It changes the parameters of discrimination (quite possibly entirely correctly) but it is not marriage equality save in the sense of between certain homosexuals and certain heterosexuals. It leaves out the culture and practices many groups including members of the second largest faith on the planet.

  • Turgon

    Korhomme thankyou and I will watch same. However, although Jesus said little enough on marriage and sexuality what He did say was pretty clear: He criticised the woman at the well: John 4: 16-18 “Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither. 17 The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband:18 for thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.”

    Then in the Sermon on the Mount (His most concentrated piece of recorded teaching: Matthew 5: 27-28 27 “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:28 but I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

    The idea of sex outside marriage and adultery are seen as sin. However, within in Hebrews 13:4 “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.”

    In the vast majority of current evangelical Protestant teaching now sex (within marriage) is seen as wholly good and something God given and God honouring. This idea that this attitude to sex within marriage as wrong or only for procreation or somehow second best is widespread, is itself, simply incorrect and supported by no significant theologians or preachers I have ever heard or heard of.

  • Zig70

    I know people in settled same set relationships who are also practising catholics and play an active role not just turning up on Sunday. The church is still bound by the social demands of 50+ men, who are largely homophobic. It’s naive to expect it to change quickly but it will eventually. The Catholic church is way behind it’s congregation on women priests and that still looks years away. Personally, I don’t get the obsession with marriage. Marriage as an institution is less popular and without children many heterosexual marriages wouldn’t last. It can be a very unhappy arrangement. You are free to make any sort of legal contract with another person and without procreation there is no social need. I guess I’d be saying careful what you wish for.

  • Korhomme

    After you’ve watched, would you consider changing your final sentence?

  • Zig70

    In the context of the Catholic Church which is less enlightened on a lot of things. I believe the teaching still is for procreation only, the one position thing may have died out. I wouldn’t pay enough attention to know if spilling your seed on barren ground is still taught but it was 20yrs ago.

  • Turgon

    Korkhomme,

    Unlikely because unlike you I do not need to rely on the BBC to provide my understanding of evangelical fundamentalist theology. I have been attending speakers, conferences etc. for all my adult life.

    I am sure Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch was able to marshall assorted people to back his position. However, there are vast numbers of evangelical preachers and theologians who would have a different view. In NI (and GB) terms they, the latter, would be the majority.

    However, as I said above I suspect I have the advantage here of not basing my whole argument on second hand views no matter how eminent. As I believe a retired doctor I am sure you will accept that experience is pretty useful as well as hearing the argument of one eminent person.

  • Newman

    The programme presented by Professor McCullough did a grave disservice to the history of celibacy in the Catholic church. He comes to the issue of course with a major axe to grind and this became ever more apparent.The monastic movement was the means by which the Church, damaged by the patronage of the state, was renewed. The contribution even of Irish monks to the rediscovery of learning in Europe following the Dark Ages is a further case in point. Yet we are treated interminably to the modern diet of seeing everything through a post modern lens determined to cast of the shackles of doctrine especially on the question of sexuality. The programme was risible.

  • Turgon

    Unlikely because unlike you I do not need to rely on the BBC to provide my understanding of evangelical fundamentalist theology. I have been attending speakers, conferences etc. for all my adult life.

    I am sure Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch was able to marshall assorted people to back his position. However, there are vast numbers of evangelical preachers and theologians who would have a different view. In NI (and GB) terms they, the latter, would be the majority.

    However, as I said above I suspect I have the advantage here of not basing my whole argument on second hand views no matter how eminent. As I believe a retired doctor I am sure you will accept that experience is pretty useful as well as hearing the argument of one eminent person.

  • Korhomme

    Apart from the story of the anorexic girl, I think I was aware of most of what the professor said; it was pleasing to hear that he agreed with me, though he can formulate things much more clearly.

    As for ‘experience’, if part of this is ‘expert opinion’, this has been largely discarded in medicine in favour of factual evidence.

  • Korhomme

    He didn’t get far into celibacy and the priesthood though I expect more on this in the next programme. But the question surely is, why celibacy? He did point out that there is no mention of monks or monasteries in the New Testament, instead linking them to eastern Hinduism and Buddhism. And wasn’t the survival of ancient learning, rediscovered in Europe, really due to the Arabs and the House of Wisdom?

  • Turgon

    Precisely, one man’s opinion: in this case Professor MacCulloch, does not mean that much.

    Thankyou for proving my point.

  • Granni Trixie

    I think that the impact of the cult of the Virgin Mary needs to be added to the mix in trying to understand why things are as they are in Ireland and Northerm Ireland.

    I remember praying ‘to be like Mary’ in the 60s and when I came to marriagible age I thought that the most important thing was to be a Virgin when I got married:note that I was not preoccupied in ensuring that I married someone with whom I could live amicably. Ridiculous.

  • Korhomme

    That rather depends on whether by ‘proving’ you mean something like ‘showing by argument to be correct’ or simply ‘testing’.

  • Turgon

    Well you suggested not taking “expert opinion” as correct and indeed Prof MacCulloch seems exactly such a supposed expert.

    The problem Korhomme is you are quoting one expert backing your opinion when you have by your own previous admission little first hand knowledge of the topic at hand and furthermore decry listening to experts.

    The fact that his expert opinion is a small minority one re current fundamentalist evangelical thinking is something you do not and could not know due as I have noted above to your own previously and openly acknowledged lack of expertise on the subject (in spite of Prof MacCullough’s undoubted scholarship – he also has several reasons for biases in this regard).

    That you approvingly quote him whilst simultaneously decrying expert opinion just makes you sound silly. This often happens when clever people move out of their sphere of knowledge and pontificate from a position of intelligence yet ignorance.

    Still keep digging: good to see one as clever as a retired hospital consultant excavating so large a hole: maybe you also drive a JCB in your retirement.

  • qwerty

    Dear catholics, if referendum fails, I swear I will fight against your church until your church will not have any influence on Ireland. If referendum fails, the day after referendum (23 may) will be the worst day of my life and I will not forgive your church, never. Even if your Pope will praise same-sex marriage in a future. You are the only ones who is trying to make us second-class citizens.

  • Korhomme

    Medicine has moved from an ‘art’ to largely ‘evidence based’. The evidence ranges from meta-analyses of trials, through randomised double-blind trials, to single trials, case reports and even ‘expert opinion’. The expert opinion is the lowest level of evidence, but sometimes it is the only available evidence.

    Science and the humanities or ‘arts’ require differing methods for their interrogation. The arts aren’t really suitable for double-blind trials, though there are at least two in religion; and in science, it’s difficult to compare and contrast the beauty of the spleen and the liver. It’s more ‘horses for courses’.

    Perhaps you would define ‘fundamentalist evangelical’ thinking, for it probably means something different to you and to me. But I do have an understanding of the history of Christianity in the west, though I’m sure my understanding isn’t the same as yours. Then again, it’s also possible to get too close to a problem or subject, and not to see the wood for the trees.

    And yes, I really have driven a digger; not a JCB, but a small and old-fashioned Kubota 🙂

  • Turgon

    Keep on digging

  • Korhomme

    I have laid aside the JCB, and my perforator, burr and gigli saw, and will in future rely on a jackhammer 😉

  • Abucs
  • Abucs

    I wouldn’t say it was due to the Arabs. Certainly with the Spanish rebellions against the Muslims (mostly non-Arab) it allowed the Christians another avenue to recover important Greek texts from that part of the world. They also came from what was left of the Greek Christian civilisation themselves. They were under heavy Muslim pressure at round the same time. Greek Christians fleeing west also brought important texts with them during the Muslim invasion into Europe from the east which caused the eventual obliteration of the Greek Christian Byzantine civilisation.

  • Korhomme

    Published in 1907; we’ve moved on from then.

  • Abucs

    In 100 years surely Neil Armstrong will still be regarded as the first man on the moon and the Americans and Russians the pioneers of space travel?

  • Korhomme

    That will remain true; but even today we wonder at the crudity of the computers used in the moon landings—they have less computing power than a mobile phone. And in a century from now, when our descendants are living on an exoplanet because we’ve destroyed Earth, they will think our efforts were puny.

  • Abucs

    Very true. I would just highlight that we are where we are today because of the mistakes and triumphs of yesterday.

    Likewise they will be much better (hopefully) one hundred years from now because of today’s mistakes and triumphs.

    I think it is important to recognise the continuity of progress rather than setting the era of the recipient of progress against the era that helped create the progress.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    The word spouse is available to anyone who wishes to use it and is not gender specific.

  • Korhomme

    Part 2 of the professor’s series is available here:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05r6dkq/sex-and-the-church-2-sexual-revolution

    It covers the invention of marriage as a sacrament, the protestant revolution and witch trials.