Same-Sex Marriage Referendum in the Republic: Review of ‘Who Owns Marriage?’

who owns marriageAs the date for the Republic’s same-sex marriage referendum draws closer (22 May), various parties have weighed in on the debate. Unsurprisingly, official representatives of the four largest Christian churches are opposed to same-sex marriage, and have urged the faithful to vote ‘no.’ At the same time, Christian activist groups like ‘Faith in Marriage Equality’ have supported a ‘yes’ vote, and theologians like Prof Linda Hogan, Vice Provost of Trinity College, have argued that there is a Christian case to be made for marriage equality.

One interesting intervention in the debate is a book published by the Republic’s Evangelical Alliance (EA) organization, Who Owns Marriage? A Conversation about Religion, Government, Marriage and a Civil Society. It is edited by Nick Park, Senior Pastor of the Solid Rock Church in Drogheda and Executive Director of EA.

Given the stereotypical view that ‘evangelical equals homophobe,’ back in 2010 EA surprised many by urging evangelicals to support the Republic’s Civil Partnerships Bill.

Who Owns Marriage is not as directive as EA’s statement on the Civil Partnership Bill. Rather, it presents a range of perspectives on the debate and there is disagreement among the contributors about how one might vote.

However, the book includes EA’s ‘Statement on Same-Sex Marriage,’ which argues that the referendum is ‘more to do with marriage redefinition than it is about equality,’ and advises ‘a “No” vote in the forthcoming referendum on the grounds that the State is going beyond its legitimate sphere in attempting to redefine marriage itself.’

Park, who writes the longest contributions in the volume, also clearly supports a ‘no’ vote. And his voice is unavoidably dominant, as the contributors were asked to respond to four chapters he wrote for the book: ‘A Much Needed Conversation,’ ‘Remaining True to Evangelical Values without becoming the Taliban,’ ‘Same-Sex Attraction, Scripture and Sin,’ and ‘Who Does Own Marriage?’ Three or four contributors then respond to Park’s chapters with shorter comments of their own.

But the volume is not just evangelicals lining up to support Park’s views. It also contains contributions from Park’s daughter Kirsty Park, a lesbian, Ph.D. candidate at Dublin City University and LGBT activist, Brian Finnegan, editor of Gay Community News, and Michael Nugent, the chair of Atheist Ireland.

At one level, EA is to be commended for wanting to participate in a ‘conversation,’ albeit as Park and several of the contributors note, the numbers of evangelicals in the Republic are so small that they hold no illusions of being able to ‘influence’ widespread opinion. But at another level, not all the contributors think the conversation is asking the right questions – and they freely say so. As Richard Carson, Chief Executive of ACET-Ireland (AIDS Care Education and Training), writes (p. 29-30):

‘The difficulty for me is that I think he [Park] is asking the wrong (initial) question. If we are asking, “how do we move forward with the issue of same-sex marriage?” then we are missing something enormous. … But how about we start with a different question – “What is the story of the Irish evangelical church and LGBT people?” This opens up questions which are rooted in the vulnerability of the past and present tense, such as … “Did we do harm?” … in LGBT+ community social settings I have heard individuals name (without any knowledge of my own evangelical circles) specific churches in Dublin, statements these churches have made on homosexuality, actions taken by these churches with young LGBT people and the ensuing negative impact this has had on their peers. Maybe we don’t need to initiate the conversation “did we do harm?” bur rather join the conversation. Maybe the story is already being told.’

The final chapter, ‘Who Does Own Marriage?,’ is where Park raises some of his most interesting points about the definition of marriage and the relationship between church and state. He recalls that until 2007, pastors in most evangelical congregations in the Republic could not solemnise marriages, meaning that couples who wanted to be married in these churches must also have had a civil marriage outside the church. Park writes that although most evangelicals were happy ‘to enter into a cosy relationship with the State’ by conducting legal weddings, ‘Some of us are starting to question whether jumping into the State’s pocket alongside more established churches was actually a good idea at all’ (p. 140).

What Park would prefer is for both the state and the churches to give up their efforts to ‘own’ marriage, in the sense of imposing their own definitions on the rest of society, including who may or may not marry and for what reasons. Rather, he recommends broadening the Civil Partnership Act to make it possible for any two adults to gain legal protection in areas like taxation, property and inheritance (p. 155), and returning marriage to the ‘community’ where groups (Christians and non-Christian alike) can have their own marriages free from the interference of the state.

This is a classic Anabaptist argument, with its strong regard for strict separation between church and state, and one that I have sympathy with. But while it may be a sound theoretical argument, I don’t think it is a practical one because broadening the Civil Partnership Act and getting the state out of the marriage business are not options that are available to the Republic’s voters.

I also don’t think that voting ‘no’ in the referendum would advance Park’s radical vision for preventing both state and church from imposing a definition of marriage on the rest of society. Voting ‘no’ perpetuates a status quo, supported by most of the churches, which goes against what opinion polls tell us more than 70% of the Irish population want marriage to mean. (Whether that population will get out and vote on referendum day remains to be seen — apathy rather than hostility may be the culprit if there is a defeat for the ‘yes’ camp.)

This is where Carson’s admonition to listen to the stories of LGBT people – including what the referendum means to them – should come in. And to its credit, the book does at least contain those perspectives. As Kirsty Park writes (p. 161):

‘The State already defines and regulates marriage whether you believe it should or shouldn’t. This Referendum has no power to change that. If the Referendum does pass it will be a change proposed by the people through the Constitutional Convention and confirmed by the people through a majority vote. That is citizens changing their Constitution not the State changing definitions.’

Or as Brian Finnegan says (p. 164):

‘It’s called the same-sex marriage referendum, but at its heart it’s about something else. It’s about saying whether you believe gay people deserve equal status and respect or not. It’s about saying whether you want to endorse the brutalisation and humiliation of young gay people or not. It’s about asking, do you believe you are superior, ethically, morally and socially, to gay people or not?’

Kirsty Park and Finnegan make brave contributions throughout the book, with Finnegan detailing the bullying he endured in school and Park writing (p. 129-130):

‘… I have lived this story. I’ve been a gay person in the church, I’ve grown up in and seen Evangelical churches in many different countries and I 100% believe that the church is in complete denial about the extent of the damage it has caused to LGBT people worldwide.

… I’ve never been beaten or called names at church … so why do I have a fear of telling someone I know to be a Christian that I am in a relationship with a woman? Until Christians can truly answer that question they will continue to wonder why they have the reputation that they do.’

Carson also points out that for many LGBT Christians, contributing to the book would not have been ‘safe’ (p. 118). Carson acknowledges his own position of social privilege in that he is not LGBT. For him, this often unrecognized power keeps those who are not LGBT from listening to what LGBT people have to say about their experiences.

Chapter 3, where Nick Park examines what the bible has to say about homosexuality, is written with more nuance than you might see in other publications in which homosexuality is judged to be sin. Park acknowledges that a minority of evangelicals do not see homosexuality as sin, and even presents some of their arguments before explaining why he disagrees with them. But the contributors who responded to this chapter did not really engage with his theological points. (None of those contributors are professional theologians, so they cannot really be blamed.) I think this was a missed opportunity for a Christian theologian who does not see homosexuality as sin to have presented this perspective in more depth.

Another aspect of the book that I found striking was that while contributors at times drew comparisons to evangelicalism in the United States, evangelicalism in Northern Ireland was not mentioned at all. Given the recent rows in the north about the Asher’s cake case and same-sex marriage, this is either surprising – or simply underlines how far apart evangelicalism in the Republic is from evangelicalism in Northern Ireland.

(I should at this point confess that I was invited to contribute to this book. As a Belfast-based sociologist of religion I almost certainly would have compared Northern Ireland and the Republic, but I had to decline the invitation due to a pressing deadline for my next book – which, thankfully, I finally met this week!)

Who Owns Marriage is available on Kindle via Amazon.

  • chrisjones2

    Who gave the Church ownership of marriage?

    It just assumed ownership as a mean of increasing its fee income in the middle ages bit it hasn’t a copyright on the concept or process

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Until the Council of Verona in 1184, marriage was hardly “owned” by the church at all as christians could marry anywhere they liked without the presence of clergy. This means that the Christian church had no real jurisdiction over the practice (could it have been called an institution then?) for longer than half the history of Christianity. For most, lych gates, taverns, church vestibules persisted as “sites” for the ritual or exchange of vows until well into the 18th C. You needed money in order to have a church wedding well within the place of worship it seems.
    I guess this is why the term “common law spouse” took hold. The church did have views on marriage in general throughout this period but was not its sole authority.
    So if all that was required for the majority of Christianty’s life cycle so far was a binding commitment between 2 consenting adults, it appears that the practice/institution was “owned” more by local culture than by European Churches.
    Incidentally, the Council of Verona was more preoccupied with the Cathars, Waldensians and other perceived heretical groups. The practice of free love within these groups obviously spooked the Vatican. The Church’s move towards an anti-feminist position (emergence of notions of witchcraft) can be seen to develop at this point; cf Alice Kyteler.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Societies and churches in all their manifestations through the ages have always ring-fenced and controlled marriage and sex because it is the most potent, powerful, primal and basic urge and reaches deeply into feelings of identity and self.

    President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe opines that homosexuality is a “white-mans’ disease.” In this he is correct but only in the sense that, since African societies are only one step away from hunter-gatherer societies (as of course are we) that those societies do not carry passengers. Hunter-gather societies expose their defective children, their new-born children and abandon the aged who fall behind in times of extremis. It is not that they do not care for them; it is simply the kindest way to ensure the survival of the tribe in times of trouble.

    In these societies pederasty and Sapphism are regarded as anti-social, anarchistic and hedonistic: in their opinion they create division and conflict, not the next generation.

    And these infractions of tribal law are punished severely: typically with stoning unto death: not death with the spear, which is regarded as a symbol of both male and female potency and fertility.

    It is only with the birth of the Roman Civitas and the Greek Polis that the sanction of anthropological experimentation became secondary to possession of talent and skill as regards to the survival of organic society.

    The court is out to whom is correct.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Both you and Mugabe should familiarise yourselves with the vast area of research carried out in the field of Social Anthropolgy over the last one and a half centuries.

    You both should also acquire a much less simplistic knowledge of variations in social practices in that vast continent. You’ll find that there are many records made by European explorers and missionaries registering their shock at the institutionalising of same sex marriages from Nigeria to Angola and, believe it or not, what is present day Uganda.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    BTW, Slugger O’Toole doesn’t carry passengers for too long. Check your facts and challenge your glib assumptions before considering yourself as a qualified ticket holder.
    I’m also glad you gullibly show support for Mugabe’s propaganda. It makes life easy for the rest of us.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Are, bejasus I have worked in 15 countries and 4 continents and am (I like to think: an accute observer of humanity). I have seen a stoning to death for tribal infringement. As a Catholic I believe the greatest concept of Christianity is that of Charity ie that of
    Christian love. I was not engaging myself with the opinions of R. Mugabe Esq simply high-lighting them.

    I have also whimsically observed that the actions of many people of European societies are not so far away from the so called primative societies which they affect to despise.

    Lets face it, the people of the European Continent were gassing and burning children and old age pensioners only 60 short years ago: and much of it in the name of research into Social Anthropology.

    Have you ever heard of the “Harden–Eulenburg Scandal.” Well I met one of the people involved. A Junker and most informative.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Here’s a little light reading for you:
    Or if you’d rather stay closer to home: It’s a great place for enlightenment and you’ll meet some of my friends.
    If any of the above excites you please don’t share it online.

  • terence patrick hewett

    I have to say that I am a great bibliophile and fornicator and if you can give me some interesting books I will certainly investigate them. But links? please! But I really do prefer the practical rather than the theoretical: except in the truly scientific. I would have made a great Jesuit.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Somebody fetch this man a child of the first 7 years!
    The links refer to publications written by academics. Be so good as to order them and then you can lend me them afterwards. I’ll enjoy hearing your views then.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Let me explain: I have met many members of terrorist organisations and I have to say that most of them were very nice people (I avoid the psychopaths). Including the protagonists of of our much loved Irish conflict, Baader Meinhoff, The South African Communist Party, the ANC, Ossewa Brandwag. I met Walter Sisulu: what did we talk about? Robotics that’s what.

    In my original post I was not making judgments simply making observations.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    I don’t know what your last post explains apart from a need to impress.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Not at all at all: These guys (and ladies in the case of Baader) were prepared to give their all (and many of their compatriots did) Like all these threads we tend to ramble a bit: and that’s great: Best website in multi-verse is Slugger.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Is it the best website in the multi-verse to get lost up your own fundament?

  • terence patrick hewett

    I forgot the Vlaams Blok.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Yes that’s a common ailment found in the fundament. Try syrup of figs.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Syrup of Figs: how very Victorian:

    When the word “Victorian” is used today it comes with all sorts of baggage; the assumption is that we all know what Victorian means: hypocritical, preachy, introverted, un-enlightened and sexually repressed. This is erroneous: in reality the world in which we live is still fundamentally the world which the Victorians and Edwardians reformed from the horrors of the 18th century; and into which the forces of delusion are trying, with great success to drag us

    My appallingly white Victorian and Edwardian cockney family used to sing a rude (or appallingly obscene) parody of the George R Sims music-hall song “It was Christmas Day in the workhouse” together with another based on The Lost Chord by Sir Arthur Sullivan. The words to these songs which I still have would make a sailor blush: and there was little difference between the informal conversation of the lowest and the highest except in what may be termed polite society. It was Anna Soubry for the pub and club and Dear Albert for the home.

    The myth of alleged Victorian prudery is no better illustrated than in the story of the piano legs draped to prevent the male of the species going mad from sexual lust. The legs of the furniture at the time were gussied up for good practical reasons. Since they had no refrigerators they had many larders, so they kept cats to control the mice: ipso facto they covered the furniture to stop the cats from sharpening their claws on the legs. Additionally, since they had large families it was a protection against damage to the legs of the furniture by all those wheeled wooden toys. The myth actually arose from Captain Frederick Marryat’s 1839 book, Diary in America, as a satirical comment on prissiness. No-one took this seriously at the time so they must be laughing their heads off at us from above (or below). Most of our views of the Victorians are now obtained from contemporary text; what they really thought was never committed to paper, although some idea may be got from Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, Morrison’s A Child of the Jago, The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith and especially the pronouncements of Miss Marie Lloyd. The works of Mr Peter Ackroyd of East Acton also come highly recommended.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    I’ve dressed up as Marie Lloyd in the privacy of my own home since this chat began. Have you got skype?

  • terence patrick hewett

    Sadly not but:

    It was Christmas Day in the workhouse
    The snow white walls were black
    Along came the Workhouse Master
    With his suit cut out of a sack.

    In came the Christmas pudding
    When a voice that shattered glass
    Said: “We don’t want your Christmas pudding
    You can stick it with the rest of the unwanted presents”

    The workhouse master then arose
    And prepared to carve the duck
    He said: “Who wants the parson’s nose?”
    And the prisoners shouted: “You have it yourself sir.”

    The vicar brought his bible
    And read out little bits
    Said one old crone at the back of the hall
    “This man gets on very well with everybody”

    The workhouse mistress then began
    To hand out Christmas parcels
    The paupers tore the wrappers off
    And began to wipe their eyes; which were full of tears.

    The master rose to make a speech
    But just before he started
    The mistress, who was fifteen stone,
    Gave three loud cheers and nearly choked herself

    And all the paupers then began
    To pull their Christmas crackers
    One pauper held his too low down
    And blew off both his paper hat; and the man’s next to him.

    A steaming bowl of white bread sauce
    Was handed round to some
    An aged gourmet called aloud
    “This bread sauce tastes like it was made by a continental chef”

    Mince pie with custard was the next
    And each received a bit
    One pauper said: “This mince pie’s nice
    “But the custard tastes like the bread sauce we had in the last verse!”

    The mistress dishing out the food
    Dropped custard down her front
    She cried: “Aren’t I a silly girl?”
    And the inmates answered: “You’re a perfect picture as always Ma’am!”

    “This pudding,” said the master
    “Is solid, hard and thick
    “How am I going to cut it?”
    And a man cried: “Use your penknife sir; the one with the pearl handle”

    The mistress asked the vicar
    To entertain his flock
    He said: “What would you like to see?”
    And they cried: “Let’s see your conjuring tricks,
    they’re always worth watching”.

    “Your reverence may I be excused?”
    Said one benign old chap
    “I don’t like conjuring tricks
    “I’d sooner have a carol or two around the fire”

    So then they all began to sing
    Which shook the workhouse walls.
    “Merry Christmas!” cried the Master
    And the inmates shouted: “Best of luck to you as well sir!”

  • chrisjones2

    “Societies and churches in all their manifestations through the ages have always ring-fenced and controlled marriage ”

    …only since the 145th Century when they made it necessary for poor people

    “In this he is correct but only in the sense that, since African societies are only one step away from hunter-gatherer societies”

    What utter abject racism.Ever been to South Africa? Namibia? Nigeria?Mauritius? ……

    Why the hell is this nonsense not deleted?

  • chrisjones2

    “Harden–Eulenburg Scandal.”

    Asit was over 100n years ago that must have been interesting but what relevant it has to today escapes me

  • terence patrick hewett

    Actually I spent 24 years in South Africa: I learnt Xhosa and Afrikaans.

    I screwed my way from one end of the country to the other: I could tell you stories: yes of course I have been to SWA: do not be a complete Rooinek: what a muku you are.

    “En en may droom is dit de pad na Potchefstroom”

    A quote form a South African poet: which one you ignorant slap-head?

    Or perhaps you have cuck in jou eiers? (get a translation of that jou brak dof.)

    Or perhaps you will give us your profound dissertation on “Ilawu xhosa illawu”

    Of course I can pronounce that impeccably: Xhosa ladies teach you their language pretty well. The trick is to put the tongue on the roof of the mouth and suck: not a click but a sucking sound: you play with the tongue: of course the are 50-80 different sounds. Fun, fun, fun.

    After that Medieval Welsh so I could read the Mabinogion was a doddle: Next project is An Béal Bocht.

  • terence patrick hewett

    He was a great person to talk to: had a face like a hatchet: bit like Chalkey White of the Bash St Kids: He was sent to SWA after the scandal and missed the 1st and 2nd world wars: I said to him that he was lucky: but he felt that he really was not a good German not to have fought: he would rather have fought and died.

    As to irrelevancy of history: in Ireland!? Many people across Europe have fervently wished that the 39 German principalities had remained 39 principalities: a united Germany kicked off the 20th century in 1904 in German South-West Africa with the Herero and Namaqua Genocide; a prelude to plunging Europe into two monstrous wars culminating in the Holocaust. The journalist and author Jerome K Jerome put his finger on the point in his book Three Men on the Bummel circa 1900:

    “Hitherto the German has had the blessed fortune to be exceptionally well governed; if this continues all will go well with him. When his troubles will begin will be when by any chance something goes wrong with the governing machine”

    A pretty chilling prophecy.

  • terence patrick hewett

    If you wish to engage with the interweb simply to hear the echo of your own voice: you will be sadly disappointed.

    The liberal mainstream press display all the sensibilities of a Victorian maiden aunt.

    Try bringing up the subject of the effects of population displacement and the resultant destabilisation upon country, society and liberty. Try the classical Christian doctrine that the promotion of pederasty and sapphism are anarchic, sterile, hedonistic, and socially damaging pastimes which destabilise
    the family and society.

    Try postulating that the introduction of euthanasia and abortion, turn us into a nation of old people, further the task of population reduction, damage the fabric of family and society and are intrinsically evil.

    Try suggesting that the debauchment of the education system is a deliberate policy to reduce a sense of identity and to produce an ignorant and supine untermensch.

    Try pointing out that the radical left, using entryism, and with previous points in mind, have corrupted the integrity of the schools, the judiciary, the civil service, local government, councils, the social services, the BBC and the police, and have also made a start on the armed forces.

    Try the hypothesis that the self-anointed progressives, having rejected the set of absolute moral values willed to it by Christianity and Judaism and consequently no longer having a coherent set of moral ethics, have filled the vacuum with a mess of single conflicting issues, which in the words of Phillip Blond, have “repudiated and vilified the very structure and basis of society itself.”

    Great as the temptation is to snigger at all this pompous maiden auntery, the most serious issues of our age need to be debated since they affect the very nature of self and how we see our future.

    Many correspondents have declared, correctly in my view, that by
    ignoring it all gives the field up to the likes of the BNP. In the end reality always breaks in, and the longer we leave it the more traumatic it will be when it does.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Of course Chris you omitted the qualification “as are we” Do not be so dishonest.

  • ruhah

    This whole debacle is the most unlikely of catalysts for the evangelical church. The questioning of their beliefs and perceived role in society is awakening a slumbering people. In essence, it seems to me that preachers are now sharpening arguments and polarising congregational opinion.

  • terence patrick hewett

    To re-iterate I did not support Mugabe’s line on pederasty: I merely commented upon it as an example of how an historical legacy of social attitude can be so powerful. You flatter me in accusations of glibness and gullability: I would have thought that cynicism and triviality would have been nearer the mark.

    Of course Mr Fealty may host whomsoever he wishes: I am quite sure that sometimes he feels that some of my posts are quite an embarassment: but Ho-Hum it would be a sad world if no-one rejoiced. Perhaps Ben you should visit yr local priest and confess. Mea Culpa is always gd for the soul.

  • TrevH

    Your piece doesn’t catch some of the denominational nuances – Church of Ireland has not said No, the Bishops have come down on both sides

    Bishop of Kilmore – No –

    Bishop of Cork – maybe –

    Bishop of Cashel – Yes –

    Excellent piece by patrick Comerford in yesterdays Irish times