Ireland Says Yes to Gay Marriage: What Does it Say About Religious Freedom?

It is now obvious that Ireland has entered a new era which, although may be considered as the polar opposite of its religious beginnings,  can also be seen as a reactionary stage which might in the end turn out to alter the fabric of society in unexpected and irreversible ways.

By Georgiana Constantin l June 17, 2015!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/article_635/ireland-gaymarriage.jpg

As the gay marriage debate continues to spark controversy around the world, some refer to the idea as bold and necessary for societal progress, while others see it as a devolution of moral standards and religious freedom.

In a recent referendum 62.1% of voters said “yes” to the legalizing of homosexual marriages in Ireland. The country has therefore become the first to legalize gay marriage by popular vote and might, as a result, be considered the symbol of a new generation of thought and mores.

Traditionally, Ireland has been a Christian nation and has a strong Catholic heritage. The Emerald Isle was introduced to Christianity before the 5th century AD and has kept the Christian faith and traditions alive through the years.

If one were to analyze the country’s history, however, they might conclude that in the course of time it has gone from one extreme to another, from literary censorship, the banning of remarriage after divorce and forbidding the selling of artificial contraception to the recent legalizing of gay marriage. Thus, one might interpret the current change of minds and hearts as a reaction to the issues of old rather than a transformation of mentality per se.

“Same-sex marriage is well on its way to being a done deal in America. But the fact that the Church has lost its once-tight hold on the Irish populace does have some resonance. That power had been enormous: Homosexuality was not decriminalized in Ireland until 1993, and divorce wasn’t legalized until 1995,” New York Magazine writes.

The dispute surrounding this topic may perhaps not have as much to do with the idea of gay marriage itself but rather with the consequences that seem to follow its legalization and cost to religious freedom.

Cases such as bakers being forced to make cakes supporting homosexual weddings or the idea of pastors being forced to perform religious ceremonies for same sex couples, as well as the possibility of Christian schools losing their tax exempt status, if they continue to preach homosexuality as a sin, all point to the fact that legalization of a substitute normality might not suffice in the long run and that it might, in the end, lead to a persecution of the majority for the sake of retribution rather than justice.

As some insist that normalcy is whatever people subjectively deem it to be and that legality should follow the same logic it is hard not to notice a paradox in this way of reasoning.

First, if the “old fashioned,” “prejudiced norm” is something which should be reformed rather than followed, why is it that many in the LGBT community seek to have a traditional style religious ceremony even though they are aware of religious teachings on the matter? Wouldn’t entering a church to ask, or maybe even force a pastor or priest to perform a ceremony for a same sex couple be the same as a music major trying to take a neuro surgery exam final with no previous studies in the field? Schools have certain criteria which need to be met by a prospective student. Companies only hire people who meet certain criteria. Institutions are also guided in their functioning by their own bylaws.

It is the same with the Church. Catholics,, Orthodox, Protestants, Baptists, all have their criteria and rules by which they abide and they cannot participate in certain rituals of different denominations because there are certain guidelines which must be followed. No one denomination or branch of Christianity sues the other for this. No person with an education in mathematics and no prior language training will sue a company which specializes in translations for not hiring them. No prospective student will complain that, after finishing their studies in pharmaceutics they could not get a job as a cameraman in LA.

Also… no one will force a Muslim Imam to perform a wedding ceremony for a Christian, let alone one for a same sex couple.

Every institution, be it laic or religious has its own criteria which need to be met if one is to be given access to it.

It is not as if anyone is being refused a fundamental right, but rather they are asked to respect the other’s freedom of conscience. The debate has therefore turned from LGBT rights to the rights of the religious majority in practicing their own religious beliefs.

It is now obvious that Ireland has entered a new era which, although may be considered as the polar opposite of its religious beginnings,  can also be seen as a reactionary stage that might in the end turn out to alter the fabric of society in unexpected and irreversible ways.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State addressed the issue as follows: “The church must take account of this reality, but in the sense that it must strengthen its commitment to evangelization. I think that you cannot just talk of a defeat for Christian principles, but of a defeat for humanity,” The Guardian reports.

While legalizing gay marriage might not have the damning effects which many predict it could, it most certainly represents a change of mentality, which in and of itself is not unusual or bad. However, does this mean that we should now go from a new perspective on morality to the persecution of those who follow traditional values? Is society truly just if some are “more equal” than others?  Is the world truly seeking equality before the law or serving a cold revenge for what it sees as past religious injustices?

Georgiana Constantin is a law school graduate who has studied International, European and Romanian law at the Romanian-American University in Bucharest and received her Masters from the Nicolae Titulescu University in Bucharest. Ms. Constantin, who is based in Romania, is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.