What the Irish Marriage Referendum Means

The first thing to say is congratulations to all those in Ireland who have campaigned and voted for a change in the law that will allow same-sex couples to be able to enter civil marriage.

There’s something incredibly exciting about the fact that the first country to put marriage equality (or at least a step towards marriage equality) to the electorate is Ireland. Twenty years ago it would have been almost unthinkable that Ireland would ever enthusiastically embrace this change. It is clear that the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has been changed forever by a litany of abuse cases and also by the positive changes that increasing secularisation in Western Europe has brought.

It has been nailbiting watching the referendum from this side of the Irish Sea. Particularly when one begins from a position of thinking that such a referedum should never happen in the first place. I agree with Seph who tweeted the other day –

Seph is right. Whilst the excitement of the Irish vote has been palpable it has still meant that tens of thousands of people have had to live with a debate over whether they are really full citizens or not and walk streets in which placards and slogans opposed to their lives have been prominently displayed.

On the positive side, there have been few things on twitter more moving than the #hometovote hashtag. This referendum didn’t allow postal voting and so Irish citizens from all around the world travelled back to Ireland to cast a vote for equality. That stream on twitter has moved me to tears several times in the last few days. Growing up gay in an age where the presumption was that the majority world meant you harm, it is difficult to encounter such gold-hearted goodness without having an emotional meltdown.

There’s no doubt that this result will encourage those fighting for marriage to be open to same-sex couples in Northern Ireland. Fresh from the gay cake row, there’s a new coalition of politicians in that province arguing publicly against things that are to the benefit of their gay citizens. They appear to be even more dinosaur like the more decisions are taken around them that point towards the goal of equality.

One notable thing worth celebrating with regards to the Irish referendum is how the Church of Ireland has conducted itself. Significantly, there was no expectation that all their bishops would say the same thing and so we were able to hear very clear statements of support from several high profile members of the church, particularly the Bishop of Cork, the Rt Rev Paul Colton and the Bishop of Cashel, Ferns & Ossory the Rt Rev Michael Burrows. The two of them deserve to be hailed as heroes.

What a contrast from the Scottish Episcopal Church where the poison of conformity has overtaken any sense of collegiality amongst our bishops.

Bishops here need to remember that the word for those who take actions (or maintain silence) leading to things that are to the detriment of their gay clergy and congregational members whilst insisting in private that they are sympathetic is not hero but something far more visceral that Jesus had a lot more to say about than homosexuality.

But let us not dwell on that – this is Ireland’s day. A new Ireland too.

So many people have said that this vote represents far more to Irish citizens than just whether or not same-sex couples could marry. It re-establishes the idea in Ireland that the state is there for all Irish people.

Ireland has lost so much of its young talent to migration. Ireland like so many countries has lost so much energy and vitality to homophobia too. As we have seen young Irish citizens making their way back home to vote for a better world for those who live there, we’ve seen something selfless, compassionate and hugely inspiring.

I hope that as they’ve turned up to vote this week they’ve received céad míle fáilte – a hundred thousand welcomes on their return.

A hundred thousand alleluias are being sung for Ireland by everyone who wants a world where everyone is equal.

Go Ireland. Go into the future holding your heads high.

Ireland said Yes!

Is it a sin?

Is it a sin, I find myself asking rhetorically, for men and women to be treated differently by institutions? Is it a sin for women and men to have unequal access to power and privilege.

My own view is that it is not merely wrong for gender to be a determining factor in what someone can do or achieve but that it is a sin.

Now, don’t start asking me to defend that from a biblical position. This blog tries to live in the land of common sense after all. If you want arguments that use biblical texts to try to “prove” an argument one way or another, I hope, if you’ve been reading along for a while, you know fine well to try someone else’s web page. We don’t do that round here.

The thing is, the Church of England has a decision to make soon as to whether to adopt the legislation currently before its General Synod that would allow women to be selected to be bishops. It has been a long and drawn out affair getting to this point. What England has been debating is how to retain within one church people who say they cannot accept the authority of bishops who happen to be women whilst also accepting the full authority of those women as leaders within the organisation.

It can’t be done, of course.

What has been proposed is a process by which congregations will be able to opt not to recognise a women who happens to be leading the diocese in which they exist but that they might request oversight, in some way, from someone else. The means by which this might be done has been subject to intense scrutiny. What is currently proposed is commonly said to be the best legislation that might pass in their synod.

Now, one does not comment on the business of another Anglican church’s synodical process lightly. No, really, one doesn’t. After all, one tends to find oneself arguing quite strongly for provincial autonomy within the Anglican Communion, for example by making the point that the American church was quite entitled to choose Gene Robinson as a bishop if it wanted to do so, thank you very much.

Those who did pile into the Gene Robinson argument from outside America argued that his consecration damaged the whole. His being a bishop undermined the local episcopacy elsewhere – or so they said.

Curiously, I feel much the same about the current legislation in England. If I were a member of the Church of England and a member of its Synod, I would be voting against it, even though I’m a great believer in women having exactly the same opportunities as men and women and an advocate for the cause of opening the Episcopate to men and women equally.

The reason for me saying so out loud is because I think that decisions made in England long ago over questions about whether women could be priests in England were at the root of so much of the Anglican controversies of recent years. The C of E somehow came to the conclusion that you could have priests who were women but also be in the church and not accept that those women were priests. It was a move that baffled many both inside and outside. And it also gave rise to the so-called “Flying Bishops” and talk of there being two integrities within the one church – an absurd contradiction in terms. That flying bishop idea is far more the cause of the trouble the Anglican Communion faces than the election of Gene Robinson was. The idea that you had to agree with your bishop’s predilections and pecedillos was hitherto entirely alien. In the past, you might not agree with your bishop, but he still was your bishop. Now, you could opt out and chose someone more suited to your own prejudices.

It was odd that there were those who could live with bishops they did not like or agree with in their own country who could not accept Gene Robinson being a bishop in another country.

Anyway, having had that experience, Anglicans from outside England might well be cautious of the current legislation facing the English Synod. If it passes, as it looks as if it may, the unintended consequences might, as with flying bishops, be enormous. If you sow the wind of sexism, you may well reap the whirlwind.

Because I believe in the equality of women and men, I find myself very reluctantly hoping that England says No!