In Ireland today there were jubilations and probably quite a few sore heads from last night’s party. Same-sex marriage was voted in by 62% of the people, with a massive turnout of 60%, voters coming home from the UK and even further afield to make their voices heard and drag Ireland into the twenty-first century as a country where gay people are just like other people – entitled to love and announce their love in public.
In Ireland today there were also Confirmations and First Holy Communions – lots of families celebrating traditional rites of passage for their children with parties and lunches and dinners and posh frocks. In the 2011 census, 84.2% of the population identified themselves as Roman Catholic, so I’m talking about a lot of people, not one or two.
This means, unsurprisingly, that many people who are bringing their children up in the Catholic faith also voted for gay marriage. A lot of them probably didn’t even think twice about their Yes vote: it was a no-brainer. That might be a bit hard for the rest of the world, and especially others of the Catholic faith, to understand, though.
When I came to the US I was still a card-carrying, Mass-going Catholic. But I discovered that the Church in America was different from the Church in Ireland. I didn’t like it so much. It wasn’t so tolerant. It seemed to think its members should keep all its rules, not just the ones they liked the sound of. It didn’t just let you brush under the carpet the things you disagreed with. It implied, in fact, that if you didn’t want to do Catholicism the way it was intended, the way the Pope said, then you were welcome to go off and be something else instead. A Lutheran, a Methodist, an Anglican, a Unitarian, even. The Unitarians take everyone, even atheists.
So I stopped going to Mass, because things like the plaque outside the church saying we should pray for babies who died from abortions offended my sensibilities. I didn’t agree with everything – I never had; but in Ireland that didn’t really matter, they were always happy to have you. In Ireland my churchgoing was motivated by the comfort of ritual and tradition, but I wasn’t going to show up every Sunday just to be made feel guilty or to be pissed off by all the things I disagreed with that the US Catholic Church seemed determined to throw in my face.
Some time after that I sort of became an atheist, so maybe it had been coming all along.
My point is that the Irish in Ireland for the most part see no contradiction, no difficulty with the fact that on Friday they voted to let gay people get married – in civil ceremonies of course, not in the church – and on Saturday they went to Mass and watched their kids receive a sacrament, helping them make promises to honour the laws of the Church. Even though the Catholic Church officially views homosexuality as disordered and gay sex as contrary to the natural law. It cannot possibly condone gay marriage.
I don’t think the Church in Ireland is in crisis, exactly. The number of people who continue to identify as Catholic shows that. But what they mean is not, perhaps, what the Church might think they mean. They’re cultural Catholics, the way many Jewish people are non-orthodox. (If this is a terrible, awful, insulting, heretical parallel to draw, I apologise. I don’t mean it that way.)
In Ireland, something can be two things at once. It’s one of the beauties of the place. You can have two opposing viewpoints and vehemently believe in both of them. You can be a devout Catholic and also support – no, more than that, be thrilled to tears for – the cause of same-sex marriage. It’s okay.
As always when I write about religion, this is just my opinion. I have no intention of disrespecting anyone’s beliefs.