Last week, the Republic of Ireland held a referendum in which voters stood up for tradition and overwhelmingly rejected an unprecedented change to an important and long-standing institution. The minimum age for candidates for the largely ceremonial Irish presidency will remain 35 years, rather than dropping to a mere 21.
However, it has to be said that a second referendum held on the same day, in which a solid 62% of voters came down in favour of amending the constitution to recognise marriages between “two persons without distinction as to their sex”, generated much more excitement and controversy. Supporters of the amendment, whose ranks included all of Ireland’s major political parties and a host of cultural figures, were naturally and in some cases rather hyperbolically delighted with the outcome:
The result has been described as a social revolution, an expression of decency and a country coming of age.
On the other side of the fence, prominent Irish opponents of same-sex marriage conceded defeat gracefully. It was left to Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State for the Vatican, to fling the fire and brimstone:
I think that you cannot just talk of a defeat for Christian principles, but of a defeat for humanity.
The family remains at the centre and we have to do everything to defend it and promote it.
In my opinion the idea of marrying someone of the same sex is basically daft, and stretching the legal definition of marriage to encompass homosexual unions is just one more way of demonstrating that the law can be an ass, but a defeat for humanity? Come on, Cardinal. The outcome of the Irish referendum deserves perhaps a bit of eye-rolling, not wailing and gnashing of teeth. Canada’s own “gender-neutral marriage definition”, as Wikipedia puts it, has been in place at the federal level since 2005, and humanity hasn’t suffered too much as a result. Whatever slings and arrows may be afflicting Canadian families, monkeying with the definition of marriage must be rather far down on the list.
Cardinal Parolin’s comments underscore just how vehemently the Catholic top brass believes in Adam and Eve as opposed to Adam and Steve (or Madam and Eve, for that matter), even if the Irish branch of the Church is in a conciliatory mood at the moment. It’s little short of astonishing that Ireland, which succumbed very early to what Friedrich Nietzsche called “Christian infection” and clung so staunchly to Catholicism that divorce was only made legal in 1996, has shaken off the cold hand of the Vatican to the point of being prepared to reframe marriage in the teeth of adamant disapproval from the Church hierarchy. Whether or not one agrees with 62% of Irish voters, the wider historical picture is one of liberation, and that deserves a generous splash or two of Bushmills.