Sunday, 5 April 2015

Discarded Candles: Is Ireland Ready for Marriage Equality?

On 22nd May 2015, the Irish public will vote in a Marriage Equality referendum. In Catholic Ireland, the subject of same-sex marriage is controversial…or is it?


I am itchy all through Mass. I watch the paschal candle being lit, light my own candle symbolising the light of Christ in each of our lives, sit in the balcony and sing with the choir. But all the time I know that directly below me sits a pile of leaflets advising members of the congregation to “think carefully” before voting for marriage equality. It states, not in so many words, that the answer should be “no”. These A4 pages, I must stress, were not actually handed out. They were simply left at the back of the church for people to pick up should they choose to do so.

One made it back to my house last week, where it was closely read, had its arguments carefully considered, and was then thrown unceremoniously into the fire. Throughout the Mass which celebrates the story of Christ sacrificing himself for all of us, I couldn’t stop thinking about these bits of paper and was half-decided on taking the pile when everyone had left, putting them under my jacket and taking them all home with me to be disposed of.

Two things stopped me. First of all, I do believe that everyone has the right to their opinion in a democratic community. Even though this is one—and perhaps the only—decision where I feel there is a very clear-cut right answer for everyone, people are still entitled to gather information from all sides in order to make an informed decision. This point made me hesitant, but I was still fairly decided on what I was going to do if I got the chance. I should point out here that it takes a lot to get me to “fuss” about anything, really.

The second thing that stopped me was that I realised there was absolutely no need to take the leaflets away. I came down to the back of the church when the Mass was over, and the leaflets were not visible. They were still all there on the little table, in just as big a pile as they’d been in before the Mass, covered in a pile of discarded Easter candles which had been carelessly thrown on top of them, dripping wax onto some of the pages.

The truth was, nobody wanted to know. There was no need for me to do anything because, as my mother later summed up, the argument dismantled itself. People who attend church, no matter how much they really enjoy it or how strong their faith is, are on some level Christian. No matter what form your beliefs take, the most fundamental point which Christians agree on is to “love your neighbour as yourself.” To love everyone equally and to treat others as you would want to be treated. This is what most things we speak about at Mass boil down to at the end of the day.

And in following that, not many people at Mass really wanted to hear that marriage was only for men and women. Nobody wanted to be told who was allowed to fall in love and bring up a family.

The Church is ever so slowly modernising and moving forward. But however subtly this is happening within the Vatican and the higher echelons (and I believe that, though subtly, it is happening), it is taking place among the lay community with much more efficiency and vigour. And after all, the lay community are what make up the Church. They vote with their feet in deciding whether to come to Mass, and with their wallets in deciding whether to make a donation. And in a few months’ time, Catholics everywhere will vote at ballot boxes on whether love should be universal. I’m proud to say that I haven’t met a single one who has said they were voting “no”.

In Dublin the other weekend, it was great to see members of the, shall we say, older community (over sixties) out on the streets campaigning for equality. I think this showed that if they can reconcile same-sex marriage with their traditional views, then it shouldn’t be a problem for the older or younger generations. Not in so many words, they were essentially saying, “If I’m not that backward, nobody else should be.”

The Church gets a lot of flack. And much of it over the years has been deserved. But I can see, from the inside, from the everyday church-goer, from the modern Irish Catholic community… things are changing, and people, as always, are fundamentally decent.  The power no longer lies, as it has done in the past, with bishops and higher authorities. It now lies with the lay majority who, it appears to me, are ready for equality and fairness.

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