Ireland Ends “Year of Equality” with LGBT Church Worker Protections

LGBT teachers hold the newly approved Section 37 amendment

Ireland’s lawmakers ended the country’s “Year of Equality” by passing a bill that will ban discrimination by religious institutions against LGBT employees. Gay Star News explained this latest development:

“The bill amends Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act, which allows schools and hospitals to ‘takes action’ to prevent employees from ‘undermining the religious ethos of the institution.’ “

Passed by the Irish Parliament, the bill will be signed into law soon by President Michael Higgins. Its passage is especially significant because the Catholic Church administers nearly 93% of Ireland’s schools and just 1% are not denominationally affiliated.

Ireland’s Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) welcomed the Section 37 amendment, saying it was “delighted” by the law’s passage. Director of Education Policy Sandra Irwin-Gowran stated:

” ‘To date Section 37.1 has served to create a chilling effect for many LGBT employees. . .The existing provisions posed a threat of discrimination which has served to silence thousands of teachers in our schools.’ “

She added the law would allow LGBT people “to be themselves, get married and have a family without a threat to their job if they work in a religious run institution.” LGBT church workers are too often fired or forced to resign for their sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or support for civil equality. More than 50 such incidents internationally have been made public since 2008. You can find New Ways Ministry’s listing along with other employment-related information by clicking here.

Irish citizens can celebrate 2015 as an historic year for LGBT equality in their nation. Most notably, voters approved marriage equality through a constitutional referendum in May. This was followed by inclusive nondiscrimination protections, the ability for citizens to self-identify their gender identity on government records, Health Minister Leo Varadkar’s coming out as the first openly gay cabinet member, and now employment protections for LGBT church workers. Irwin-Gowran suggested this latest law will have “wider implications” because, according to the blog Take Part:

” ‘It provides a critical springboard for the cultural change necessary in our schools; change that ensures that all people, whether they’re working or learning, can do so in an environment that is welcoming and affirming of who they are.’ “

Besides civil equality, Catholic Ireland’s hallmark year has profoundly affected the church too. Priests and nuns spoke out for the referendum and some came out as gay themselves. Early on, national prelates set a less hostile tone for the marriage debate with Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin even calling anti-equality activists “obnoxious” at one point. He joined other leaders in the Irish church in condemning Vatican officials who said the vote was “defeat for humanity” and the Irish were “worse than pagans.”

After the marriage law was voted in, Archbishop Martin called it a “reality check.” Bishop Willie Walsh said marriage equality would “increase the sum of human happiness.” It even led German Cardinal Walter Kasper to suggest same-gender marriage should be the “central issue” for the Synod on the Family which took place in October.

It is worth repeating an oft-spoken refrain: Catholics in Ireland have helped advance LGBT equality not in spite of their faith, but because of it.

While observers seem to agree the marriage referendum signaled a new freedom present in Irish Catholicism, it does not mean faith is dying. Could these advancements actually signify the opposite? Former Irish Republic president and canon lawyer, Mary McAleese, eloquently explained her personal support last month. Her support for civil rights is “founded emphatically in the Gospel,” and she described current church teachings on homosexuality as “wrong.”

Importantly, Ireland’s advances this year are but a beginning and there remains much work to do in transforming culture and renewing church for 2016. The seeds of justice, however, have rooted and are even bearing fruit. From here, there is no turning back.

Want to celebrate Ireland’s “Year of Equality” in an up-close and personal way? Consider “Ireland: Land of Rainbows and Wedding Bells,” an LGBT-friendly pilgrimage with Sr. Jeannine Gramick in April of 2016. You can find more information here.  Sign up soon to save money!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

5 Responses to Ireland Ends “Year of Equality” with LGBT Church Worker Protections

  1. Tom says:

    If only the USCCB was so understanding. They would rail against such a proposal in the U.S. as an attack on religious liberty rather than an affirming act of inclusiveness.

    • winterhavenlarry says:

      If this law were enacted in the USA, I would expect the Bishops to announce that every Catholic school was going to close. This would include pre-K, elementary, secondary, college, and university, similar to their abandonment of adoption agencies. Imagine that…

  2. Father Anthony says:

    Hooray for Ireland for showing the way

  3. Erin go bragh! Bravo Ireland!

  4. […] of rainbows and wedding bells.” Once there, we will celebrate Ireland’s successful referendum last year that legalized marriage equality, as well as meeting with two Irish Catholic LGBT groups […]

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