The Brandsma Review

Pro Vita, pro Ecclesia Dei et pro Hibernia – A journal of conservative Catholic opinion from Ireland

Issue 127, July-August 2013


WITH ALL THE FOCUS on the Government’s scandalous abortion bill, one might almost forget that its position on this issue is merely the most egregious example of an aggressively secular agenda.

Indeed, from Enda Kenny’s bombastic attack on the Vatican in the Dáil to the closing of the Vatican embassy and to Ruairí Quinn’s relentless assault on Catholic schools, the secularising tendencies of this Government would make José Luis Zapatero blush.

In April we saw further evidence of this Government’s determination to annihilate any last vestiges of Ireland’s Christian heritage when the Constitutional Convention voted overwhelmingly to recommend that the Government hold a referendum to allow same-sex marriage. Not that marriage is per se a Christian, or even a religious issue.

There were a number of prevailing assumptions governing the “debate” on the issue of same-sex marriage at the Convention. One of these was that marriage is simply a civil right, and as such should not be denied to any section of the community.  Another was that marriage exists solely to allow two people to declare their love for each other and to have that love recognised by the State.

The problem with these assumptions is that they misunderstand the nature of marriage. For while there is a right to marry, that does not mean that marriage is simply a civil right. Marriage is a social institution, in which the State recognises the sexual and emotional union of a man and a woman.

But the reason that the State does this is not because it has a fundamental interest in the romantic attachment of two people, but that is has a fundamental interest in the children which may result from this attachment.

Marriage evolved, prior to the State, because society recognised that children were better off raised by their natural, biological parents in a stable family unit. That’s what marriage provides, and that is why, when states began to develop, they recognised what already existed and gave it special protection.

The institution of marriage is mostly concerned with children and with providing children with a committed mother and father. Same-sex marriage can never do this.

Of course, one might very reasonably point out that the State hasn’t really been in the business of ensuring that as many children as possible are raised by their biological parents in stable family units for a long time now. Given the rate of family breakdown, and the number of children raised by lone parents,one might argue that the State no longer really protects or values marriage any longer at all.

Certainly it is true to say that successive Governments have failed to address the range of cultural and societal trends which have badly damaged marriage. Marital breakdown rates, while not quite at the levels reached in Britain and the US, have still climbed dramatically. Cohabitation rates are climbing steadily. The response by policy makers here, and in the West generally, has been a collective shoulder shrug.

In fact, it is precisely this ambivalence about the importance of marriage that has us on the cusp of legalising same-sex marriage. The failure to understand and appreciate the importance of marriage as the leading pro-child social institution has led to the situation where we think that marriage is simply about public recognition of private romantic feelings.

But this has very dangerous implications. Legalising same-sex marriage sends out the disturbing message that the natural ties between children and their parents are not important. The advocates of same-sex marriage insist that natural ties are not important, that all that matters is having loving parents. By extension they deny that having a loving mother and mother has any special value.

Once society accepts that two men (or two women) can be married, they accept that having two parents of whatever sex is just the same as having your own mother and father, or any mother and father. This has happened in every country wheresame-sex marriage has been legalised. But clearly, such an arrangement can only provide a child with, at most, one of their biological parents. A child in such a situation is deliberately separated from his or her biological mother or father, and society says, that’s fine.

You might object that this already happens in the case of adoption by an opposite-sex couple who are not related to the child. But that couple can still provide the child with a mother and a father, and they did not deliberately sever the link between the child
and its biological parents. That had already happened.

To put it another way, marriage as the sexual union of a man and a woman says several things. It acknowledges that the sexual union of a man and a woman is different in kind from any other sort of sexual union.

It recognises that only men and women can have children and that this is important. It recognises that men and women are different from one another. It recognises that mothers and fathers are different from one another.

No deliberate severance

Making marriage gender-neutral says all of the above facts are so unimportant or trivial that we no longer need a social institution that is founded on them and arises out of them.

Gender-neutral marriage says the differences between men and women, and therefore between mothers and fathers, are illusory. It denies that the natural ties matter. It denies that the genealogy of human beings matters. Allied to gender theory, samesex
marriage says gender is a social construct.

Therefore when we accept gender-neutral marriage we are also buying into a radically flawed anthropology whether we like it or not.

Quite apart from these momentous questions, there is also the huge threat that same-sex marriage poses to religious freedom. At the Convention, it was repeatedly stressed that churches would not be forced to conduct same-sex marriages. But if same-sex marriage is legalised, all of a sudden the Church will find its teaching on marriage is not simply not normative, but quite possibly branded as illegal and discriminatory.

Already, those who are prepared to declare their opposition to same-sex marriage are attacked as “homophobes” and “bigots”. But if marriage is redefined, these insults may well be given the status of law. In the UK, for example, equality legislation has meant that Catholic adoption agencies will be forced to shut, because they could not, in conscience, treat same-sex couples as prospective adoptive parents.  Given the short shrift given by this Government to the conscience rights of Catholic hospitals, it seems unlikely that they will allow Catholic schools to teach that marriage can only be between one man and one woman.

As yet however, none of this has happened, and there is no reason for us to accept that it must happen. It is long past time for the Catholic and Christian community as a whole to begin to engage with this issue seriously.

The first thing that is badly needed is for the faithful to inform themselves. At present, too many Catholics, while uneasy with the idea of same-sex marriage, seem unclear as to how to argue against it in the public square. Worse still, they are woefully unaware of the issues at stake in this debate.

The lack of voices prepared to voice opposition to same-sex marriage makes this clear. At present, spokespersons for the Iona Institute appear are among the only voices willing and able to take this issue on. This must change. People must become clear about the arguments for and against same-sex marriage, so that they can participate lucidly and cogently by writing to the newspapers and going on call-in shows or even participating in TV debates as audience members.

There is a chance to defeat a referendum on this. It is true that polls here consistently show solid majorities in favour of same-sex marriage.

But the experience of other countries suggests that such polls count for little when referenda are held. Time and again, referenda both in the US and the one referendum held in Europe (in Slovenia) show that when voters are exposed to the arguments against samesex marriage, they listen.

But it won’t be defeated unless all Mass-going Catholics, hierarchy, priests and laity, begin to get informed, get engaged and get actively involved in opposing this move to fundamentally redefine the most pro-child of all social institutions. This is a cultural and moral issue, but it is also a social justice issue, because the marriage of a man and a woman is so pro-child.

It seems likely that the Government will hold a referendum on this issue in 2014, probably in the autumn, after the local elections. Let us hope that those who do not want marriage redefined are ready for what’s coming.

Tom O’Gorman is a researcher for the Iona Institute

Editor’s note, 12 January 2014: It is with great regret that I have to inform readers that Tom O’Gorman was brutally murdered in his home in Castleknock, a suburb of Dublin, last night 11 January 2014.  Anima eius et animae omnium fidelium defunctorum per Dei misericordiam requiescant in pace.  Amen.


In the same issue:



Clarity on Abortion Required from ACPI


Tom O’Gorman

Dr Éanna Johnson

Rev Aidan McGing CM

Muinice de Bairgéad

Peadar Laighléis


Rev Prof Brendan Purcell

From the Editor’s Desk includes ´Precious Blood Devotion’; a new column, Hibernia Hibernici; Letters from Eric Conway and Fr Anthony Scully; Hurling Shots from the Ditch include ‘Article 27–an Unused Option´, ´No Jack Kennedy´ and ´What JFK really said´.


One comment on “Issue 127, July-August 2013

  1. Paul V Cassidy
    January 15, 2014

    May I express my condolences to Tom’s family and friends on his tragic death. A notice from the Pro-Life movement took me here. Clearly some sense needs to be made of the circumstances involved. Human sexuality is very complex and the cultural crusade to uncloset all homosexuals, so that they may be freed to praxis into the light, makes previous attempts by the Church to identify, manufacture and ring fence the sexually dysfunctional into the priesthood seem positively lame. The risk now is that we uncloset psychopaths and psychopathology in the process the practice of which is likely to remain illegal everywhere outside of Hell because it involves murder most foul even if the killer happens to be gay. There seems to me to be undue confidence in ‘Gaydar’, which makes Faulty Towers seem faultless by my estimation. The idea that Tom could have written this article and rented a flat as he did to his killer seems past the point of poor judgement. But we Catholics are used to arguing distinctions between celibacy and chastity for instance. More importantly homophobia need not imply prejudice; a fear is merely a fear afterall and may even be well founded, even justified, as any rape victim will tell you. No doubt more will be learned of the killer and his references to a ‘Cultural dark age’, his sense of Sicily as embodying Italian extremes. We’re always talking about ourselves whether we like it or not.

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