As expected the Irish government has announced that it will hold a referendum on gay marriage, but will wait until the Spring of 2015 for the poll. Given the government's bruising result in the Senate referendum and the uneasy feeling among many Irish citizens over the issue of gay marriage, I imagine they are holding off to build up support and work on the electorate. It will also allow the media to get its campaign up and running. So I presume over the next year or so we will be exposed to lots of pro-gay stories and media pieces, hear a lot about equality and no doubt Pope Francis's remarks on the plane back from World Youth Day will be rehearsed time and again to convince the "devout Irish" that the Pope backs gay marriage. I guess we should also expect outright, vicious attacks on those who oppose the referendum and I'm sure the media will be digging deep to get some scandal to undermine the Catholic Church again.
Yesterday evening Bishop Denis Nulty issued a statement with regard to the referendum. It is very clear and indicates that the Church will be actively opposing the proposal. Here is the statement in full:
Bishop Denis Nulty statement on the decision by Cabinet today to hold a referendum on same sex ‘marriage’ in 2015
The debate at the heart of the referendum announced today by the Government is not about equality or about the false separation of a religious view of marriage from the civil view of marriage. It is about the very nature of marriage itself and the importance society places on the role of mothers and fathers in bringing up children. With others, the Catholic Church will continue to hold that the differences between a man and woman are not accidental to marriage but fundamental to it and that children have a natural right to a mother and a father and that this is the best environment for them where possible.
Married love is a unique form of love between a man and woman which has a special benefit for the whole of society. With others of no particular religious view, the Church regards the family based on marriage between a woman and a man as the single most important institution in any society. To change the nature of marriage would be to undermine it as the fundamental building block of our society. The Church will therefore participate fully in the democratic debate leading up to the referendum and will seek with others to reaffirm the rational basis for holding that marriage should be reserved for the unique and complimentary relationship between a woman and a man from which the generation and upbringing of children is uniquely possible.
As Christians our primary commandment is to love. Love always demands that we respect the dignity of every human person. That is why the Catholic Church clearly teaches that people who are homosexual must always be treated with sensitivity, compassion and respect. It is not lacking in sensitivity or respect for people who are homosexual however to point out that same-sex relationships are fundamentally different from opposite sex relationships and that society values the complementary roles of mothers and fathers in the generation and up-bringing of children.
I presume the Catholic Church will be the only Christian Church to argue against gay marriage. Seeing as the Church of Ireland and other Christian ecclesial communities backed the abortion bill they will also back this proposed change to marriage. In such matters the Church tends to be the only voice proclaiming the truth.
Another battle has begun, and the crucial skirmish in this battle is that of getting the truth out. Proponents of the change will try and paint the Church as homophobic, preaching a message of hate. They will ignore the Church's pastoral concern for same sex attracted people and her condemnation of discrimination against them, they will also ignore the Church's often hidden ministry to those homosexuals dying of AIDS: men often abandoned who have nowhere to turn but find attentive care and a dignified death in Catholic hospitals, hospices and institutions. The message the Church teaches is clear - we must love those with a homosexual orientation and show true compassion, but it is not compassionate to change the fundamental block of society in order to facilitate people's desires. This change to marriage will have devastating consequences for our society and our children in the years and generations to come.
Here is a piece from the Iona Institute on the referendum. With regards to marriage in general, here is a very good piece on what marriage is and isn't: for one thing marriage isn't about "me".