The referendum legalising same-sex marriage capped an astonishing 50-year social revolutionby Gerry Lynch / June 18, 2015 / Leave a comment
In the referendum held in Ireland on 22nd May, voters chose overwhelmingly—by 62 per cent to 38 per cent—to endorse a proposal to amend the country’s constitution in order that “marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.” All the major political parties had supported a Yes vote on same-sex marriage. Predictably, the Catholic Church, once such a power in the land, had urged its flock to reject the proposal. Many of the Church hierarchy did so only half-heartedly, however, and in rural Ireland, where for decades the writ of the Church had run unchallenged, there were reports of walkouts at mass when priests called for a No vote from the pulpit.
A couple of days after the referendum, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, a senior Vatican official, described the result as not just a “defeat for Christian principle, but… a defeat for humanity.” But Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said that the crushing popular vote in favour of same-sex marriage was a “reality check” for the Church. It was more than that: it was confirmation of the strange, slow death of Catholic Ireland.
The story of its demise can be told be told in four acts.
Act 1: July 1949 Soldiers lined the route and bowed as the funeral cortège of Douglas Hyde, first President of the Irish Republic, founder of the Gaelic League and campaigner for the cultural “de-Anglicisation of Ireland,” passed through the streets of Dublin to St Patrick’s Cathedral. The surrounding streets were packed with well-wishers, but as Hyde’s coffin, draped in the tricolour, was carried inside, few of the mourners followed.
Hyde was a Protestant, and St Patrick’s the cathedral of the Anglican Church of Ireland. In those days, before the Second Vatican Council (or “Vatican II”) began the process of ecumenical outreach to other denominations in the early 1960s, Roman Catholics were forbidden from attending services of worship held by other Christians. Only two Catholics attended the funeral itself: the poet Austin Clarke and the French Ambassador.