Ireland’s “Gay Moment” as Marriage Referendum and Ban on Employment Discrimination Approach

As Ireland’s referendum on same-gender marriage approaches this spring, LGBT issues are making headlines nationwide in what one columnist calls ‘Ireland’s gay moment.’ Irish legislators are also considering a bill regarding family law for same-gender couples, separate from marriage rights, and a review of the country’s ban on gay blood donors. Perhaps of greatest interest to Catholics in the U.S. concerned about LGBT people being fired from Catholic schools is a directive being considered: a ban on church worker employment discrimination.

The following are recent developments with links provided for further reading.

Church Workers Could Win Employment Rights

Equality Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin intends to change the nation’s Employment Equality Act so that church workers who are LGBT, divorced, or parents outside of marriage will be protected from discrimination. Many of Ireland’s public schools are administered by the church meaning this change will have a widespread impact. The minister says current law:

” ‘…has a chilling effect when people feel they can’t be themselves…Members of the LGBT community and divorcees and unmarried parents will not have a fear of being themselves and being open about their private lives if they are working in schools and hospitals.’ “

Ríordáin hopes to have the changes approved by Easter reports the Irish Examiner.

Referendum Wording Released; Catholics Respond

The Irish government released the language change in regard to marriage that people will be voting on this spring.  Voters will be asked if they want the following language added to the national: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”

Two groups, Gay Catholic Voices Ireland (GCVI) and We Are Church Ireland, responded positively. GCVI chair Ciarán O’Mathuna said in a statement:

” ‘Civil marriage is a matter for the state and should not be confused with church marriage. As chair person of GCVI and as a practicing Catholic, I want to call on all thinking Catholics to be fully aware of this distinction and vote yes for equality and social justice which, is a cornerstone of our faith belief.’ “

We Are Church said in its own statement:

 “[S]ocial justice requires that loving, committed relationships between two consenting adults should be treated equally by the Irish State, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.”

Meanwhile,  RTE reports that Bishop Liam MacDaid of Clogher, head of the Irish Bishops’ Council for Marriage and Family, objected to the language, as expected, saying it was cold.  He promised a campaign against the referendum. However, critics are criticizing the hierarchy for scaremongering in an Ireland where the church’s power is greatly diminshed. In a column for the Irish Examiner, Michael Clifford writes:

“[T]he basis on which the main plank of the no campaign is being run harks back to a time when the Catholic Church controlled the State…they have resorted to fear and to concern for children…Back in the day, they wouldn’t have had that problem. The Church would have merely issued an edict and the population would have complied, in both letter and spirit.”

Leo Varadkar

Top Minister Comes Out as Gay

Ireland’s Health Minister Leo Varadkar came out last month, becoming the first openly gay cabinet minister in this nation where homosexuality was criminalized until 1993, reports Bloomburg BusinessIn a radio interview, Varadkar said being gay was “just part of who I am,” and he continued:

” ‘I want to be honest with people, I don’t want anyone to think I’ve a hidden agenda…Whatever decisions are made on any issue, I’ll make them according to what I believe is in the public interest.’ “

These decisions include the marriage referendum and a pending review of a ban on gay blood donors. Varadkar is heavily favored to take over the leading Fine Gael party, which could mean Ireland has its first openly gay Taoiseach (prime minister) in the near future, as well. While Varadkar’s coming out was welcomed by Irish leaders, it failed to generate headlines in Europe where LGBT ministers are increasingly commonplace.

Yesterday, Bondings 2.0 reported that an Irish Catholic school cancelled an anti-bullying workshop for failing to present “the other side.” Taken together, all of these stories reveal that while one of the world’s most Catholic nations is undergoing great positive changes when it comes to LGBT rights, much work, particularly for Catholic institutions, remains.

For Bondings 2.0’s ongoing coverage of Ireland’s marriage referendum, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

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