Paul Colton, the Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, said that too much in the debate on the May referendum so far had failed to put human experience into the picture.
Although the Church of Ireland bishops have not made any collective statement on the question of allowing civil marriage for same-sex couples, Bishop Colton has been an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues.
In a St Patrick’s Day civic service attended by civic and community leaders, he said big debates like the current one on the marriage referendum could not be had in the abstract, but must be grounded in the real experience of fellow human beings’ lives.
“One of the risks of any big debate in any community, society or institution, is that we take to ourselves the luxury and relative safety — or we even draw the battlelines — by having the discussion without putting names, faces and human experience on the idea,” he told the service at St Fin Barre’s Cathedral.
“Such is a risk as we approach the marriage referendum next May. We already are seeing too much of this in the public space.”
He said we could all too easily dehumanise and objectify other children of God when we allowed ourselves to dislocate the people from ideas. He said labels and categories — like “the unemployed”, “the disabled”, “the immigrants”, “the gays”, “the single mothers”, “the homeless”, “the traditionalists”, “the liberals” — were convenient ways of removing faces and human experience from what was being said.
He openly supports civil same-sex marriage and has said he would like a discussion to take place on same-sex couples one day having marriages, or blessings of civil partnerships at least, in church.
Last week, the Irish Catholic bishops asked people to carefully consider what they said were profound implications that passing the referendum would have on the family environment and understandings of parenthood.
“We respect the views of people who think differently to us, trusting that our sincerely held views, grounded in faith, will also be heard and respected,” they said.
They said they could not support a move that would place the union of two men or two women on a par with the marriage of a husband and wife that is open to the procreation of children.
The Catholic hierarchy’s linking of marriage equality to issues around adoption and parenting in a separate piece of law has been described by People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett as intended to create an impression that gay people can not be trusted with children. But the Catholic Bishops’ Conference has said deliberate efforts are being made not to offend people in the debate.
Catholic Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran said at the weekend that he regretted that people were hurt by what he said, or what they thought he had said, about gay people being parents. He had said people with children were not necessarily parents, and that “the jury’s out” on whether people were born gay.
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