With a referendum on marriage equality quickly approaching the Catholic bishops of Ireland have published a 16 page pamphlet outlining their position. As you might imagine they are not thrilled by the prospect and have in fact said it would be a “grave injustice”. As I read through the pamphlet I noticed many of the arguments seemed strangely familiar. The bishop’s protestation against marriage equality lay in the belief that marriage is the most important institution in society and allowing same-sex couples to marry will negatively impact the institution, society and children. They also argue that heterosexual couples and same-sex couples are intrinsically different so it is therefore not discrimination to treat them differently.
While reading this line of argumentation I was reminded of the women’s suffrage movement and the women’s civil rights movement of the twentieth century. Although the Church never had an official stance on women’s suffrage very few of the hierarchy supported it and many opposed it. The Catholic bishops of the United States were very vocal in their opposition. Cardinal James Gibbon went on record numerous times to voice his concerns.
I am opposed to female suffrage, because I am in favour of perpetuating the real dignity of woman. The Christian religion has exalted woman to her present sphere. […] Woman’s sphere is the home, and as wife and mother she will have ample occasion to engage all her time and faculties. The wife who absents herself from her home habitually inevitably neglects her children and causes her husband to suffer in her absence.
Equal rights do not imply that both sexes should engage promiscuously in the same pursuits, but each should discharge those duties which are adapted to its psychical constitution
[Women’s rights] withdraw her from those obligations which properly belong to her sex and fill her with ambition to usurp positions which neither God nor nature ever intended her.
In case you think Cardinal Gibbons was alone in such nonsensical opinions, it stems from official Church doctrine at the time that men and women had strict roles in society and it would be detrimental to the family and society if we were to deviate from these roles.
In 1930, Pope Pius XI sent a papal encyclical titled Casti Connubii which discussed issues concerning marriage and the family.
Domestic society being confirmed, therefore, by this bond of love, there should flourish in it that “order of love,” as St. Augustine calls it. This order includes both the primacy of the husband with regard to the wife and children, the ready subjection of the wife and her willing obedience, which the Apostle commends in these words: “Let women be subject to their husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife, and Christ is the head of the Church.”
This subjection of wife to husband in its degree and manner may vary according to the different conditions of persons, place and time. In fact, if the husband neglect his duty, it falls to the wife to take his place in directing the family. But the structure of the family and its fundamental law, established and confirmed by God, must always and everywhere be maintained intact.
they boldly proclaim the emancipation of women has been or ought to be effected. This emancipation in their ideas must be threefold, in the ruling of the domestic society, in the administration of family affairs and in the rearing of the children. It must be social, economic, physiological: – physiological, that is to say, the woman is to be freed at her own good pleasure from the burdensome duties properly belonging to a wife as companion and mother (We have already said that this is not an emancipation but a crime); social, inasmuch as the wife being freed from the cares of children and family, should, to the neglect of these, be able to follow her own bent and devote herself to business and even public affairs; finally economic, whereby the woman even without the knowledge and against the wish of her husband may be at liberty to conduct and administer her own affairs, giving her attention chiefly to these rather than to children, husband and family.
This, however, is not the true emancipation of woman, nor that rational and exalted liberty which belongs to the noble office of a Christian woman and wife; it is rather the debasing of the womanly character and the dignity of motherhood, and indeed of the whole family, as a result of which the husband suffers the loss of his wife, the children of their mother, and the home and the whole family of an ever watchful guardian. More than this, this false liberty and unnatural equality with the husband is to the detriment of the woman herself.
This equality of rights which is so much exaggerated and distorted.
Above we have patronising comments about giving women dignity while still maintaining discrimination. There is the men and women are different therefore it is not discrimination logic. It is contrary to God’s plan. And, of course, the scaremongering, if we allow women to engage in the public sphere then children and society will suffer. Let’s compare these against the arguments put forth by the bishops against marriage equality.
As Christians our primary commandment is to love. Love always demands that we respect the dignity of every human person. That is why the Catholic Church clearly teaches that people who are homosexual must always be treated with sensitivity, compassion and respect. It is not lacking in sensitivity or respect for people who are homosexual, however, to point out that same sex relationships are fundamentally and objectively different from opposite sex relationships.
Patronising dignity statement, check. They respect homosexuals but want to deny them equal rights just like they respected women and wanted to deny them equal rights. How nice. Note, however, they don’t mention how they believe homosexuals are “intrinsically disordered”, “they are contrary to the natural law”, and “under no circumstances can they be approved”. Such sensitivity, respect and compassion right there.
We ask that the principle of equality not be undermined by applying it inappropriately to two fundamentally different types of relationship.
An essential characteristic of marriage is the biological fact that a man and a woman can join together as male and female in a union that is orientated to the generation of new life.
Same sex relationships by their very nature are different to marriage.
Different therefore not discrimination, check.
A man and woman united in marriage, as husband and wife, witness to God’s plan for both life and love in a way that no other relationship of human persons can.
The ‘true love between husband and wife’ implies a mutual gift of self and includes and integrates the sexual and affective aspects, according to the divine plan.
God’s plan, check. Also, note how “true love” is used here, as if to suggest homosexual love isn’t real love. In fact, love is mentioned 30 times in the document but not once in reference to a homosexual relationship despite the fact that is what the pamphlet is about. It is clear these bishops don’t think homosexuals can engage in a legitimate loving relationship.
Married love is a unique form of love between a man and woman which has a special benefit for the whole of society. The Catholic Church, with other Christians and those of no particular religious view, regard the family based on marriage between a woman and a man as the single most important institution in any society. To seek to re-define the nature of marriage would be to undermine it as the fundamental building block of our society.
The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded, and to protect it against attack.
The Church holds that basic human rights must be afforded to all people. This can and should be done without sacrificing the
institution of marriage and family and the fundamental role they play in society.
Scaremongering, check. Marriage is the founding block of society, same-sex marriage will somehow undermine marriage and negatively impact on society.
The parallels are quite striking. The Catholic Church spent decades fighting the women’s civil rights movement using theological reasoning, now they are doing the same to homosexuals using the exact same justifications.