SATURDAY STORY OF THE WEEK
I’m writing a paper snappily and provisionally titled “Some Personal Reflections on the Civil Partnership Bill  and Life in Post-Christendom Ireland” [alternative witty suggestions welcome :)]
Debates about the Civil Partnership Bill [CPB] have been rumbling about for a while. Evangelical Alliance Ireland has a statement here and further reflections here. Zoomtard has a really good summary of responses here and here.
The issue surfaced again in the press yesterday with an article called ‘We’ll Pay a Heavy Price for Allowing Same-Sex Unions’ in the Irish Independent by David Quinn, Director of the Iona Institute and strong opponent of the CPB.
David Quinn’s opposition is not argued on specifically religious grounds. Indeed in its published papers on CPB, Iona goes as far as saying this:
Does the State support marriage purely for moral and/or religious reasons? It is true that Ireland is still a largely Christian country and certainly has a deep Christian heritage and it is also true that this is one reason for the current privileged position of marriage in the law. If this was the sole, or even the main reason for favouring marriage then it would be very difficult to sustain in a pluralist society where many people do not subscribe to Christian or other religious tenets and have a different moral view of marriage in any case. (my emphasis)
In light of this, despite existing to ‘promote ‘the place of marriage and religion in society’, Iona’s central argument for opposing the CPB is a pragmatic one; marriage works better for children and therefore there is a ‘rational reason for both the State and society to go on favouring marriage, while assisting all families in need … State and society have a duty to objectively assess which family forms produce the best outcomes for children.’
To this reason David Quinn adds another in his article yesterday:
the implications of this Bill for freedom of conscience and religion need some examination because this Bill is arguably the most serious attack on freedom of conscience and religion ever seen by this country, with the possible exception of the Equal Status Act.
He quotes a statements by the Irish Bishops, also published this week, that describes the Bill as “an extraordinary and far-reaching attack on freedom of conscience and the free practice of religion which is guaranteed to every citizen”.
A few observations:- leaving aside the pros and cons of the CPB itself
First, I agree that Christians should not be naïve. In theory, liberal democracy does not so much deny the truth of religious belief, but operates out of a rejection that any one faith position be given a dominant role. However, many would like to squeeze religion out of the public square altogether. There will be a need to argue the case for a true pluralism that gives voice and space to all views. Otherwise you have the oxymoron of mono-pluralism!
Second, it is significant that Iona Institute bases its arguments on religious liberty and the best interests of children. Specifically religious arguments have next to no chance of getting a hearing and will simply be interpreted as self-interested and controlling. In post-Christendom, people with religious views will have no special treatment and will need to argue their case with reason, grace and a fair degree of humility, especially given Ireland’s frankly awful experience of religion in the 20th Century. I agree with those who point out the next logical step will be legislation for full homosexual marriage – as many in the gay lobby are demanding and arguing the case against it is going to be a tough one to win.
Third, despite their non-religious form, I don’t think either of Quinn’s two arguments are going to get very far in regard to the specific case of the Civil Partnership Bill. Whether you agree or not (and there are deep flaws), the liberal democratic project believes that its values are better and more inclusive than ‘narrow’ religious ones and will lead inevitably to a healthier, fairer and more advanced society than that of the Christendom past. An implication of this framework is tolerance – where all beliefs and behaviours within the law should be tolerated. Since homosexuality was decriminalised here in 1993, the liberal state now sees its role as legislating for equality. Hence the CPB for gay couples that makes provisions for civil not religious partnership ceremonies. Opponents of CPB will be seen by many as intolerant.
On top of this, it is a hard sell to see, as Quinn argues, belief in traditional marriage as a form of prejudice that will be outlawed in certain circumstances like a tussle over use of a parish hall. The Equal Status Acts 2000-2004 have had these sorts of equality provision in place for years already without the sky falllng in.