I voted yes for three reasons. Firstly, apart from the issue of consent among adults and protection of children, I believe, that any attempt by the state to determine people’s sexual behaviour is guaranteed to evoke a response which is visceral and counter-productive. Secondly, gays are asking for something which is innately good – the legal recognition of faithful loving relationships. Thirdly, the teaching of the church cannot be promoted in this climate of resentful hostility.
In recent years the stigma of criminality and shame of homosexuality has been, to a great extent, removed. And what is the result? Like any newly liberated group they parade in the streets. A culture which had long been confined to the shadows of promiscuity and sleaze, which were never the sole preserve of gays, has started making itself felt publicly and triumphantly. And now? Now they want to live out the universal dream of life long faithful love.
The argument which says that they can do everything except apply the word ‘marriage’ to their relationships cannot but be seen against the background of this emergence from an underworld of shame. It is like holding onto a last thread of an oppressive regime and that is how gays and many other people perceive it. There is something in what they want – and in what the people of Ireland, myself included, have voted for – which speaks in praise of faithful love, of stable relationships and of the universally valued and traditional security of family live.
The paradigm of family is the marriage of a man and woman rearing children who have been conceived and born within their loving relationship. Yet not everyone can live that paradigm. Those who cannot have children will adopt. Marriages fail. Yet people will always build a family with the ingredients at hand. The kernel of married love is not the possibility of reproduction, but the publicly recognised nature of the relationship and the corresponding commitment to fidelity. Marriage is an option which gives rise to legal obligations, not unlike the formation of a company, though with an older and more universal pedigree. Giving gays the right to marry in civil law gives them the right to undertake this adult commitment. A society in which gays can marry is a society which encourages faithful commitment.
So, given the Church’s traditional teaching on the sacrament of marriage which speaks clearly of the union of ‘male and female’, where does this leave us in our newly-constituted legal situation? Pope John Paul II reflected on the saying that a man who looks at a woman lustfully commits adultery ‘in his heart.’ He added that the human heart is ‘above all the object of a call and not of an accusation.’ [The Theology of the Body, General audience of December 3, 1980.] We cannot appeal to the heart while, at the same time, resorting to the sword, the state, or even the wagging finger.