Ireland’s historic decision to pass gay marriage by popular vote Saturday has led many to question the strength of the Catholic Church in the land of St. Patrick. For example, The Telegraph’s Tim Stanley wrote that Ireland’s “yes” to gay marriage was a “no” to Catholicism. But such simplistic reductions miss the complex and evolving Catholic worldview on civil gay marriage.
Pope Francis began this evolution shortly after his election in July 2013 when he said, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Dublin’s Catholic archbishop Diarmuid Martin went even further last year: “Anybody who doesn’t show love towards gay and lesbian people is insulting God. They are not just homophobic if they do that—they are actually Godophobic because God loves every one of those people.”
Though Martin didn’t support the gay marriage referendum, he did call for creative approaches to address the issue and pushed back against what he thought were unfair attacks on the gay community during the debate. He went as far to say that some comments were “not just intemperate but obnoxious, insulting and unchristian in regard to gay and lesbian people.”
The vote in Ireland illuminates a dynamic shift on LGBT issues among Catholics and people of faith across the globe. Today about 60% of Catholics in the United States support gay marriage, compared to about 36% a decade ago.
In fact, many who voted “yes” on gay marriage did so because of their faith, not in spite of it. One elderly Irish couple put it this way: “We are Catholics, and we are taught to believe in compassion and love and fairness and inclusion. Equality, that’s all we’re voting for.”
The idea of an inclusive Catholic Church may have seemed like a pipe dream not many years ago, but under the tenure of Francis the Troublemaker, it doesn’t seem that farfetched. Two summers ago the Pope tweeted, “Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven.”
On the eve of Pentecost, it seems that Ireland has taken that message to heart and sent an unmistakable message to the Church and society at large: A community that excludes anyone is no community at all.