Debating the 8th

We now have less than one week to go until we vote on the referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution.  The amendment currently outlaws abortion in Ireland, except under circumstances where the life of the mother is under imminent danger.

Anytime I have debated the issue of abortion I try to keep a few guidelines for myself:

  • I do not know if the person to whom I am speaking has ever had an abortion, or suffered a miscarriage.  Therefore, I need to be mindful of the hurt that others carry
  • My views on religion are not always shared by others –  and I do not have the right to force those views on others

This has been a difficult campaign, with some campaigners spreading vitriol and venom: personalising attacks on those who hold a different viewpoint to themselves.  This is as sad to watch as it is understandable. This is a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ issue. There is no maybe.

However, there is one hard truth to be faced:  In 2016 a total of 3,265 women gave Irish addresses at abortion clinics in the UK.  That’s 9 women and girls a day travelling to the UK for an abortion.

Abortion happens in Ireland, whether we like it or not.  We just export it at a great cost to the women who travel. The cost is not just financial, it is in terms of health. The risks inherent in getting a medical procedure with no follow-through or back-up available afterwards mean that some of these women suffer mental and physical trauma as they journey home afterwards.

One argument against abortion is that we should be able to do better as a country and look after women and children.  It’s a lovely idea – but not a reality that we are likely to see happen anytime soon.  Just look at this country’s history in protecting the vulnerable, we seem to be far better at protecting institutions.  If we truly care about the life of the unborn, then we need to do more to change the world that our children are being born into.

I think that Sr. Joan Chittister put it very well.  We need a broader conversation about what pro-life really is.  But until that Utopian moment arrives we need to deal with the reality of the struggle that so many women go through each year in Ireland.


Over the past few weeks I have heard a number of stories and read a number of accounts by women who have had abortions in traumatic circumstances.  Women who carried children who could not survive birth; women who felt they could not care for a child due to poverty or an abusive relationship; women who were not women but children themselves when this all happened.

Many on the No side have not shown respect towards women in crisis. I personally find a number of the posters distasteful, insensitive and occasionally emotionally abusive. That some do this in the name of their faith displays a faith lacking in compassion.

Whether abortion is legalised or not, I’m going to leave the last words to a friend of mine:

“The place of the Christian outside the abortion clinic is not shouting at those going in but holding and loving those coming out”  Scott Evans – Closer Still

Voting Yes

With just over two weeks to go until the Marriage Referendum, things have begun to get ugly in the debates (arguments) between the two camps.

This is perfectly understandable.  Many of us hold quite strong views on marriage, and what it stands for.  The problem is that marriage is not something that is tied down to a simple definition or set of beliefs.  There are as many views on what marriage is as there are married people.  We all hold some kind of opinion of what our own marriage is about – or what we think marriage should be about.  Most of us are in one of two camps.

As you may guess from the title, I’m in the ‘Yes’ camp.

Underpinning many of the arguments of the ‘No’ camp is a set of beliefs based on, well, belief.  Based on faith, and on the doctrine of the Catholic Church, a church of which I’m a member.

One part of Catholic faith that is not pursued in either camp is the idea of an informed conscience.  We each have a conscience and can make choices in our lives, so long as we inform ourselves as to what the choices and consequences are.  For me this means going beyond the headlines of the poster campaigns, and actually thinking about what the referendum means for our country, and for the thousands of people who will be directly affected by our vote on Friday 22nd.

I have written before about some of the main reasons for the ‘No’ vote and why I don’t agree with them.  So I’ll try not to repeat myself here.

Really, it’s this simple:  What is the referendum about?

Forget all the posters, forget all the fancy slogans.  Think – what does this referendum mean for you, for your understanding of marriage, for your understanding of family.

If you believe that marriage is about love, then vote yes to allow those who love each other the chance to proclaim their love in front of friends and family.

If you believe that your faith speaks against this referendum, then consider this.  Not all bishops agree with the Irish Hierarchy.  Recently  German Bishops voted to allow same-sex couples to keep their jobs in the Church.  (In Ireland a teacher can lose their job in a Church funded school if they come out as being Gay.  Apparently we have a long way to go)

For me a faith based argument against the referendum is based on a tenuous premise.  Not everyone in Ireland is Catholic, and of those who are, not everyone agrees with some of the rules of the Church.

And, apart from any of this, I base a lot of my faith on the sayings and actions of Jesus.  He was there for people who were excluded, He was there for those who needed a voice, those who needed love.

Based on this alone, I am voting yes.

We’re finally debating LGBT rights openly

There has been a lot of comment recently about the now (in)famous interview on the ‘Saturday Night Show‘ where Brendan O’Connor asked Panti Bliss (Rory O’Neill) to name homophobes, and Rory named the Iona Institute plus some other individuals.  (I’d love to give you a link to the interview, but it seems to have disappeared.  Hmmm.) [Edit, just got the link for it here]

Well, this caused a bit of a stir. In fact, the Iona Institute took such offence that they threatened legal action, and the broadcaster in question (RTE) paid out very, very quickly. They were so worried that they paid out €85,000.  You can kind of see Iona’s logic in chasing this.  They didn’t want to be branded as ‘Homophobes’, and a few quid in the kitty couldn’t hurt.  Could it?

As it turns out, legal action has had the exactly opposite effect to what Iona intended.  Rory O’Neill was invited on to the stage in the Abbey Theatre where he gave an incredibly powerful and moving speech about what it’s like to be gay in modern Ireland.  I thoroughly recommend you watch it.  Newspapers, radio and chat shows are debating homophobia, and the rights of LGBT people in Ireland.

In the Dail, two TDs who are gay spoke of their experiences of dealing with homophobia.  Gerry Buttimer was “beaten, spat at, chased, harassed and mocked”, while John Lyons had hoped he was living “in a society where this stuff isn’t acceptable anymore”.  (Click here for the Irish Times Article)

I’m certain that they didn’t intend this, but it turns out The Iona Institute turned out to be an excellent catalyst in stimulating the debate.  And for that maybe we should thank them.

On Friday (Valentine’s Day) Ellen Page came out as being Gay, in a wonderful speech at an HRCF event.  Her speech really is a must see.

So we are debating things at last.  But some of the discourse is quite disturbing.  One theme goes like this:

“Why are we still listening/reading about this?”

Amazing that after just a few weeks some people are fed up with the idea that we need a debate.  Do they have a point?

Had the same objection been listened to in the 60s in America, then would the civil rights movement had achieved any of the advances that they got?  Would we now have a President Obama?

You see, I believe the debate is needed.  As Rory O’Neill stated at the Abbey, he does feel ashamed of his ‘gayness’ sometimes.  As Ellen Page stated in her speech, she came out simply because she was tired of ‘lying by omission’.

Why should a person feel a need to be ashamed of their sexuality?  Why should any person feel judged simply they are put in a different category?  Until we can treat each other with dignity and respect those who wish to love, then we need this debate.

Shur’ Things Can’t be that bad

Well, have a look at Russia.  It is well known that President Putin has passed a number of laws that restrict the rights of gay people.

Is perspective on this is so twisted that he thought he was being gregarious when he said that gay people could come to the Sochi Olympics so long as they “leave children alone”  And there we have one of the twisted stereotypes: That being gay equates to being a paedeophile, to having a sexual perversion, to somehow being sick

What is not reported is that members of the LGBT community are in physical danger in some Russian cities.  (This article will bring you to some videos)

As it is in Ireland, for some people the term ‘Gay’ is derogatory.  That is just one of the myriad of ways in which members of the LGBT community can be put down.  Imagine.  Just the use of a word to describe you can be an insult.

It Just ain’t Christian

Ummm.  Really?  I must have missed that bit in the New Testament.  Jesus spends very little time mentioning any form of sexuality in the Gospels.   And yes, I do know that the book of Leviticus does condemn homosexuality, but , if we’re going to play games, then the Old Testament is a number card, and the Gospels are Picture Cards.  They trump what had been written beforehand.

Any reading of the person of Jesus, what he said and what he did will give you some subtle hints that he looked out for those on the edges of society.  Those who were persecuted, “beaten, spat at, chased, mocked and harassed”.

You see, Jesus didn’t have much truck with the official setup of the time.  He worked with people, not ideologies.

And, while we’re talking about Christian concerns, allowing Gay Marriage will not take away from the sanctity of marriage.  What you do with your marriage does not affect the validity or the love of mine.  Refusing to allow others to share love may, in fact, harm marriage more.

You may find this interesting.  St. Valentine lived in the Roman Empire in the 3rd Century.  He is famous for helping Christian couples to marry at a time when Christians were persecuted.  St. Valentine was executed for this.  He was willing to die so as to allow others to share their love.  He was willing to stand up for those who were persecuted.

Hold that thought.  In the not too distant future we will be asked to vote on whether we feel that gay people will be allowed to marry.  Our answer will say a lot about us as a society.

But at least we are now discussing it, and for that I say thank you Iona & Co.