Marriage Equality and Parenthood

Such a big deal has been made of Kevin Doran’s radio interview on the Catholic Church’s position on marriage. As the bishop of Elphin and as a representative of the Catholic Church in Ireland he ought to have chosen his words more carefully. Whatever our own standpoint in this debate we have to recognise that he did little more than reiterate the teaching of his tradition, and in a civilised debate we must all be prepared to respect the fact that others have differing opinions. It is unrealistic to expect anyone to have full command of their words and delivery during a live radio interview, and any balanced hearing of the interview will show that he did not compare being gay or lesbian to congenital mental or physical disabilities. Nor did he profess to know the mind of God on these matters. In fact he prefaced his comments by underlining his lack of knowledge of the mind of God. What he did say exposed, at best, a lack of preparation and, at worst, a lack of understanding and kindness. After the media storm broke, he was quick to address the spin of the tabloid press:


Had the press been smart (perhaps too much to ask) it would have picked up on the real problem in his thinking on marriage. Bishop Doran stated that there was an “essential relationship between marriage and the giving of life to and caring for children.” We are safe to infer from this statement that he believes both that procreation is essential to the married state, and that human life is of its essence the product of a married union. In forwarding this essentialist understanding of marriage the bishop betrays his ignorance of the development of marriage in the Catholic tradition. It was only with the Counter Reformation of the Council of Trent (1545 – 1563) that the Church redefined the place of sexual relations and procreation apropos the sacrament of marriage. Before the Tridentine reforms it was religiously legitimate for cohabiting couples (under common law) to share sexual intimacy and have legitimate children. As for the second inference, this is an absurdity. There is no basis in biology for an argument requiring a marriage certificate for the fertilisation of an ovum. It is from this extraordinarily weak premise that he finds the reasoning behind his assertion that gay and lesbian couples cannot be parents.


The bishops of Ireland want us to think this through. One problem that I see for them is that we have thought this through, and perhaps it is time that they do some thinking themselves.

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