From Mixed Marriage to Same Sex Marriage

When will our Church leaders learn from their past mistakes? I was a teenager in the early 1980s when the fear of the Church leaders was of mixed marriage. As a young Catholic in 1989 in Belfast I fell in love with a Protestant. I knew not to expect support from either my parents or the Churches. The Churches still treated mixed marriage as second class. This was fuelled by the Catholic Bishops’ hard line teaching deriving from the Pope’s decree of 1907 called Ne Temere. That was followed by a bitter public row in Belfast in 1911, the McCann case, about mixed marriage. The Church of Ireland theologian Professor Gregg responded that Protestants “Make the idea of marriage with a Roman Catholic as much out of the question as a marriage within the prohibited degrees”.

The Protestant Anglican Church too has a history of behaving unjustly on marriage. In the 18th and 19th centuries it used its political power to deny legal recognition to all but Anglican/Church of Ireland marriages – it treated Presbyterian and Catholic marriages as invalid.

By 1995, as a young academic and in a mixed relationship with my own lovely Protestant, I was commissioned as part of the peace process to write a report on mixed marriage for the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. At the Forum the Catholic Bishops did not acknowledge the injustice and hurt caused to couples by their opposition to mixed marriage. However, two years later in 1997, the Catholic Bishop of Killaloe, Willie Walsh, wrote “I feel that many of us would want to apologise and ask forgiveness from our non-Roman brethren for that pain and hurt”.

Despite the opposition of the leaderships of the Catholic and Protestant Churches, thousands of couples entered mixed marriages. Some of these couples had to leave Northern Ireland to do so. The Northern Ireland Mixed Marriage Association recently put out a call for stories for a forthcoming book about mixed couples who were forced to go abroad. My partner and I were one of those mixed Catholic-Protestant couples who for 10 years felt we needed to live outside of Northern Ireland for our relationship to survive.

Come 2017, and the leaders of the Catholic and Protestant churches have grown out of their opposition to mixed marriage. They realise that they got it wrong. Have they learned from their past mistake? Unfortunately, they have not. Instead, they have turned their opposition to the extension of civil marriage to same sex couples. Same sex couples cannot enter a civil marriage in Northern Ireland. To do so they must go either to Britain or to the Republic of Ireland. I know this because, as one half of both a mixed denomination and same sex couple of 25 years, I was not able to enter a civil marriage with my Protestant male partner.

Fortunately, not all Church leaders are of one mind. As we saw during the marriage equality referendum in the Republic of Ireland, two of the 12 serving Bishops of the Church of Ireland (Bishop Colton of Cork and Bishop Burrows of Cashel) support the extension of civil marriage to same sex couples. Some individual Catholic priests have also spoken out in favour of civil marriage equality. It is obvious that many ordinary people of faith support marriage equality. At the time of the referendum in the Republic some of us, Catholic and Protestant, gay and straight, came together under the banner of ‘Faith in Marriage Equality’. Faith in Marriage Equality asserts that we are all equal under God, whether we are heterosexual or gay. It maintains that faith leaders should not marginalise or exclude people who are gay rather they should promote equality and inclusion.

People of faith understand that marriage is based on the values of love and commitment. This is the case for heterosexual and same sex couples, whether the marriage involves children or not. Faith institutions already distinguish between civil and religious marriage. While it is proper that faith leaders govern their members’ access to religious marriage, they should not seek to prevent access to civil marriage.

People of faith in Northern Ireland have in the past shown themselves to be ahead of their Church leaders and in the name of love they embraced mixed marriage. People of faith are again showing themselves to be ahead of their leaders when in the name of love and justice they support equal civil marriage for same sex couples. Faith in Marriage Equality will be joining this Saturday in Belfast the march for civil marriage equality.

Dr Richard O’Leary is a co-founder of Faith in Marriage Equality and a former Lecturer in sociology at Queen’s University Belfast. Faith in Marriage Equality is supported by a range of faith organisations including the Catholic group ‘We are Church Ireland’ and the Anglican Church of Ireland group ‘Changing Attitude Ireland’.

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  • SeaanUiNeill

    My wife’s family used to have Tom over to slap their old upright in their Greenwich Village apartment.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Garry, if we bring the Doctor into this, who knows where we will end up in time and space!

  • Brian O’Neill

    I have been thinking a lot recently about anger. Do you think it was a sign of depression in your father korhomme?

    Abuse can never be justified but I know you have given a lot of thought into mental health.

  • Jag

    If the US TV series The Sopranos taught me anything, it was Dr Melfi saying

    “depression is anger turned inward”

    (That, and “cunnilingus and psychiatry brought us to this”.)

  • Jag

    Same reason we restrict the speed limit to 70 mph, it’s a compromise between driver abilities, physical abilities of vehicles, quality of roads. Theoretically, it could be 120 mph which most vehicles can attain these days, but we settle on a consensus of competing claims.

    Pretty much like marriage equality, which in a Northern Ireland setting, has the support of the majority of people, based on a coupling of two adult people of any gender.

  • Korhomme

    No, it wasn’t. My father came from the uppermost echelons of Ulster society, and was surrounded by servants as he grew up. Like a ‘real’ Ulsterman he could make a pot of tea, and boil an egg; he could not do anything more in a household. My mother came from the borderline between the lowest of lower middle class and respectable working class; she wasn’t from Ireland. They met when both were out of their natural cultural background — a sort of ‘shipboard romance’. Once they came her, my father seems to have expected my mother to become his domestic servant, though she did have some help at times. Their relationship deteriorated after the birth of my sister; my father talked her out of a divorce — something my sister didn’t know. She then seems to have accepted her ‘fate’ and her ‘duty’. After he died, and particularly when she faced an ’empty nest’, she became increasingly isolated and depressed, and responded to this through alcoholism.

  • Korhomme

    Let me tell you a true story.

    A male cousin of mine married a charming girl; a foreigner, she came from a very wealthy family — this might have been part of the attraction. They had two sons together. Their marriage was characterised by shouting matches, and him developing severe and persistent headaches. He had several episodes of ‘nervous exhaustion’ for which he was treated as an inpatient at a private institution.

    They eventually divorced; the marital home was H-shaped, so each continued to live in their own wing. After the divorce it seems he showed some very odd behaviour, once complaining that he had been rejected by his parents and sent from home. This would have happened when we were both very young; I think I was in nursery school. He was indeed sent to live with us; I only remembered when I heard the story about his parental rejection, and I only remember a fraction because of a particular bit of naughtiness that we were both involved in.

    After the divorce, he began a series of short-lived liaisons and what we might today call ‘hook-ups’; he would have been in his 50s then. His most recent partner, by all the accounts I heard, a kind and generous person, was concerned for his well-being, and went to his temporary accommodation, finding him dead by his own hand. (I was never told more than this.)

    When I told my sister what had happened, she, after a pause, responded by saying that our cousin was ‘always flamboyant’. At this stage, the hidden story began to emerge.

    I remembered a snatch of conversation with him from years previously; he’d said that it was only when you had had sex with a girl that you had ‘proved yourself’. But his post-divorce liaisons had been exclusively with men.

    I don’t know all the details, but I can construct a reasonable narrative. My cousin would have been brought up in an age when homosexuality both illegal and seen as a moral failing by the mainstream; certainly his parents could never have understood this. I’m pretty sure that he realised that he was gay at an early age, but attempted to repress this — hence the boast about ‘proving himself’. And I think that the strain of his continued repression of his true nature expressed itself in the headaches and the ‘nervous exhaustion’. He had lived most of his adult life in a state of repression rather than in happiness and contentment.

  • grumpy oul man

    Thats because it open up to allow a plane to take off.
    You dont seem to know a lot about super villian lairs.
    Are you sure your one if us.

  • grumpy oul man

    I think that you are describing a all too common occurrence.
    The sooner we admit as a society that being gay is just a another part of the human condition the better.

  • the rich get richer

    I think I’d go with same sex divorce first just to bamboozle the Dinosaurs……

  • grumpy oul man

    I can, organised relegion is a man made think often used by those in power to control whole populations, see Ireland in the past or ISIS right now.
    Being Gay is a natural condition which a person is born into.
    There is no real comparsion between someone who questions a social construct such as relegion and someone who questions a natural occurence.
    A better comparison would be between homophobes and rascists.
    A person can chose which relegion they wish to believe(or to be athiest) but you cannot chose your sexuality or skin colour.

  • Hawk

    Whatever you got to tell yourself grumpy.

  • Croiteir

    By the way – We are Church Ireland are not a Catholic group, they may be a group of people who identify as Catholic but just like the Anglicans that does not make you Catholic

  • Croiteir

    You claim that the state owns marriage then?

  • Croiteir

    I cannot see the relevance – because there is none in that simile

  • Croiteir

    I am not advocating anything in this question – so less of the straw man stuff please

  • Croiteir

    Just teasing out rationals behind stances

  • Croiteir

    So nothing to do with equality then – glad we cleared that up

  • Korhomme

    Just why is the pathological obsession with sex a part of Christianity?

  • grumpy oul man

    You asked a question, i give a answer ( since the question was vague i had to make a guess or two)
    So perhaps you can tell what you meant or where you just having a wee troll.

  • grumpy oul man

    Well you came out with a statement and when challenged on it declared your authority as “basic bibical teaching when you were young” i merely suggested that more study might be a good thing, especially when your commenting on something which affects the life of other people so deeply.

  • LordSummerisle

    I’m saying that I am a tad fed up the only voices being heard are those who shout the loudest, example the so called march for equality. I am a tad fed up the debate has become simply fundamentalists/traditionalists on one side and the LGBTQ on the other.

  • Gaygael

    Can you say some more?

  • Gaygael

    Hear fucking breaking.
    And all too common.

  • Korhomme

    Yes. This happened nearly a decade ago; it wasn’t in Ireland.

    But to show that there are still ‘attitudes’, my cousin’s boyfriend — I never met him — was described by some of the family as a ….well, let’s just say it’s what we would call ‘racial stereotyping’.

  • Korhomme

    There are far too many out there with immensely thick skulls which do not permit the entrance of thought, compassion, acceptance of ‘the other’ or even tolerance.

  • Deplorable Ulsterman

    Statistical reality on numerous metrics of wellbeing. Such a contradiction of nature will never end well for children who could never be born into such a situation naturally.

  • Deplorable Ulsterman

    Sorry to hear that, but please stop projecting your bad luck on the majority of people whose families have overall been healthy and successful.

  • Deplorable Ulsterman

    There aren’t so many “gay” people. It just happens to be the latest fashionable media fad

  • Deplorable Ulsterman

    It is about creating the best environment for children to thrive. That may be one aspect of many.

  • Deplorable Ulsterman

    Such illogical nonsense and inversions of the truth doesn’t even warrant a response.

  • Deplorable Ulsterman

    I’m afraid that in general they are.

  • Korhomme

    Including: Dynastic alliances? As a business partnership (middle ages)? For gold diggers? What about the dowry? Social advancement?

  • Korhomme

    Including: Dynastic alliances; as a business partnership; as social advancement; as a ‘trophy’ or ‘arm candy’; for gold diggers and dowry seekers…

  • Abucs

    There are many wicked descriptions of things that were done which are uncharitable misrepresentations.

  • grumpy oul man

    Are you saying that what Frank describes was a wicked act by that Priest, or Franks post is a “wicked description” or a ” uncharitable misrepresentation”
    Your post is a bit unclear!

  • Abucs

    It sounds very much like coming from the ‘We are Church’ feminist movement which is very anti Christian. I think the push to have uniform and sole culture, ethics and authority through the state has shown itself over the last century to lead to tragic results. What I think will happen is that many people will just walk away from the state and vote for people like Trump in an effort to bring the whole project down. I think this secular project is on borrowed time and the big question is what will come next after its fall.

  • grumpy oul man

    And my whole argument is summed up in your use of the word ” interpreted” , all Christian theology is based on human interpretation.
    You only have to look at the wide range of often contradictory belefs between churches and often inside churches to realise that.
    Some churchs are willing to perform SSM and others would send gay people to be. “cured” some allow divorce others not.
    You pays your money you takes your choice.

  • grumpy oul man

    How.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    DU, working for years in advertising and the media, I find I have a great number of friends who are LGBT, something shared by my children who met and mixed with my friends growing up. For example, the people involved in “Our Gay Wedding:The Musical”, Ben and Nathan, are long term friends of my daughter. Have you any similar direct experience to draw on to underpin your hard edged opinions, or are you simply speaking from commitment to a rigid ideology? This is not simply a put down, but is intended as a serious question on which your views may be evaluated by other readers.

  • hollandia

    In short, the churches will not learn from their mistakes as they are bound by doctrine. Society, however will learn from the mistakes of the church, and the various churches will become increasingly irrelevant, until they see sense.

    Nothing like dwindling numbers (and money) to make someone take notice that the world has moved on.

  • grumpy oul man

    “Contradiction of nature”
    How can you call something that a person is born into a contradiction!
    You might as well call hair colour or skin colour a contradiction of nature.
    And it is interesting that you refuse to regard any research into wither children are harmed or advantaged if thier parents are in a SSM, that is very telling.
    Also by your logic any couple who cannot have children should not be allowed to adopt,
    After all the child could not have been born into thier relationship.
    Care to explain please.

  • grumpy oul man

    checked out the ‘We are Church’ movement and apart from wishing to include women in all ministries it didn’t seem radically feminist.
    But knowing you i imagine this bit you find offensive,
    A message of joy and not condemnation, including dialogue, freedom of speech and thought. No anathemas and no exclusion as a means of solving problems, especially as this applies to theologians.
    maybe i’m wrong but what is your issue with them?

  • Hawk

    Legislative law used to read that marriage was between a man and a woman. That law was meant how it was written, that only a man and woman could marry despite the fact even though it didn’t specifically exclude homosexuals. The legislative law had to be modified to include a provision for same sex marriage.

    The Bible has been interpreted in the exact same way by Christians. Jesus refers to marriage as being between a ‘man and a woman’ and like anyone reading the old marriage legislation in England this would mean just ‘man and woman’. Unlike legislative law Christians cannot just change the words of their God.

  • Christopher Mc Camley

    Well you were sadly misinformed if you were told your fiancée had to become a Catholic to marry you; that is simply not true. The reason you had to normalise your marriage is because you married without canonical form, in the presence of a priest and without a dispensation to do so.

  • Christopher Mc Camley

    There’s a good reason why churches are not overly supportive of mixed marriages. In practice they endanger the faith of the parties and their children. People may disagree but the statistics would say otherwise.

  • grumpy oul man

    Nevertheless my daughter was refused baptism by the first priest unless my wife turned.
    You may well be right in theory but the practice was very different.
    As i say it seems to be down to the priest you deal with

  • grumpy oul man

    The bible has been interpreted in many different ways, there are Christains and churchs that have no issue at all with SSM and those who have big issues.
    This is my point , opposing SSM is not a stand all christains have nor all churchs have.
    In the past many churchs opposed mixed race marriage many did not.
    Many churchs opposed mixed relegion marriages many did not.
    SSM is no different and its opposition is most certainly not a belief shared by many Christians.

  • Hawk

    I didn’t declare my authority, I passed on church teaching which to my knowledge is STILL the teaching of most churches in this country.

    You should study the bible more grumpy since you are commenting church issues you seem to know even less about than I do.

  • Hawk

    And again grumpy, the passage of Jesus about marriage refers to it as being between a man and woman.

    There is less of an interpretive element to that than mix religion (or mixed race marriages) a point I made from my first post.

    I’ve understood your point, try understanding mine please.

  • grumpy oul man

    And i point i have continuously made is that this is far from a universal Christian interpretation.
    It would be hard to find a bit of the bible that was universally agreed on.
    A example of this is were Jesus told a rich man, that if he wanted to follow Jesus he had to give his wealth to the poor.
    That seems pretty clear to me and when Jesus followed it up by telling the apostles the parable about rich men, camels and gates (eye of the needle) a very Christian poster on this site explained that Jesus didn’t really mean what he said and he was just testing the young man.
    That was the interpretation that he put on it as that way he could fit it in with his right wing worldview.
    Then lets look at genesis,
    The universe was made in 7 days, pretty clear there, not a lot of wriggle room.
    But only a small minority believe it, and boy do they believe it, the rest of us accept the scientific evidence even a lot of christains and churchs.
    Like i say with religion you pays your money and you takes your choice.

  • aquifer

    Nothing more snide and bigoted than stealing children for your particular religion. Now what has this got to do with gay couples?

  • DOUG

    And yet you left one.

  • Croiteir

    The question was very specific – “why restrict it to two people”, you just went of on one

  • Croiteir

    That depends on what interpretation of history you subscribe to

  • Korhomme

    One based on facts, as far as I can discern them; one that goes as far back as we can go to the origins of ‘marriage’. One that discards opinions based on opinions and wishful thinking or the ‘victors written version of history’.

  • Croiteir

    As far as I can discern the primary reason for marriage was for the protection of children rather than property

  • Korhomme

    Before the ‘agricultural revolution’ our ancestors hunted, gathered and roamed in group of up to 150 or so. There was neither a concept of property, for it didn’t exist, nor an understanding of paternity. Indeed, many may have subscribed to the incubator theory with the ‘more the better’ theory of procreation. Kids will have known who their mother was; in a way, all the men of the group were their fathers.

    With settled agriculture came the division of labour, the concept of property and land ownership, of inheritance and the need for female chastity — for no man wanted to leave his life’s work to the offspring of another. What we call marriage was a way to ensure ‘legitimate’ heirs; it was this, rather than a protection of kids, that was characteristic — and still is.