We can learn a number of things from this remarkable event:
1. It shows how quickly social attitudes can change. Homosexuality was only legalised in Ireland in 1993 (and divorce in 1996). The main factor is the dramatic loss of influence of the Catholic Church and the other the great improvement in Ireland’s economy since it joined the EU which encouraged secular attitudes.
2. It underlines the huge responsibility resting upon the church and the very serious consequences of its failure to meet those responsibilities. The paedophile scandals amongst Irish Catholic priests, the repressive Catholic schools and the failure of the hierarchy to deal with these problems adequately have had a devastating effect. Attendance at mass on Sundays was 90% in the 1970s but by 2013 it was 34% and around 18% in Dublin. The Irish Catholic Church has lost credibility and, although 94% of Irish people identify as catholics, many of them voted for gay marriage. The failures of the Church of England are not as bad as the Irish Church but there have been paedophile scandals and the church has confused the nation over its view of homosexual practice. This contributed to our government suddenly approving gay marriage.
3. The great joy and exhilaration expressed at the result by those who voted yes has a powerful and insidious emotional effect (I found it moving myself). Suddenly gay couples who had been together for years could enjoy the prospect of getting married. One man held a placard saying: “Thank you Ireland. This means everything. At last at the age of 60 I’m an equal citizen.” Another man was moved to tears as he said: “It’s an emotional day. I’m gay and I had two relationships for 20 years each. My partners both died and I would have loved to marry them.” This emotion is dangerous ….
4. The emotion over the gay marriage decision is dangerous because it will have the effect of further marginalising the church and applying pressure to Christians who don’t agree with same-sex marriage. On the other hand, it will lead some Christians to move away from biblical teaching and approve homosexual practice and gay marriage. So, with these Christians it won’t lead to marginalisation but to a partial departure from the faith. Both persecution and departure from the faith were prophesied by Jesus.
5. However, the issue is not one of emotion but of what God has said. We need to go back to the Bible on the issue and ensure we understand what it says about it. The following papers I have written may be helpful
What about Gay Marriage? (a short paper). See http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/Whataboutgaymarriage.html
Homosexuality and the Church: a study guide for churches. See http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/homosexualityandthechurch.pdf
What does the Bible say on Homosexuality (a more detailed study). See
6. We should not only adhere to the clear teaching of Scripture about same-sex relationships but we should also have the right attitude to homosexual people. One of the factors driving the gay lobby is the wrong attitude that all too many Christians have – one of contempt for homosexuals as people. Ironically, the tables are now going to be turned on Christians as the gay lobby gets the upper hand. We are called to love our homosexual neighbour. That means we should respect them as people and be grateful for their companionship and care for one another whilst disagreeing with their sexual behaviour. In other words, we love our homosexual neighbour (like any other neighbour) but we don’t love his/her behaviour. We should also remember that homosexual behaviour is not the only sin! We are all sinners – but that doesn’t justify any wrong behaviour.
We are seeing massive social change at breath-taking speed. The consequences for Christians who uphold the teaching of Scripture will be very serious. We need to watch and pray.