We don’t get it, do we? The idea of separating church and state, that is. North and South we’ve made the same mistake over and over again. So why don’t we learn our lesson? The churches are entitled to make up their own ‘rules’ and to encourage people to stick to them.
It isn’t the government’s job to pass laws to suit them or to enforce the church’s rules. That’s why we elect a government.
If it weren’t so, we could just ask the hierarchy to make the law for us. That’s more or less what we did in the past, despite also having all the outward palaver of Dáil Éireann and Stormont. So it was that we ended up with a “Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people” in the North while the Catholic Church enjoyed a special place in De Valera’s constitution.
“This is a Catholic country,” as it was put to the late Savita Halapanavar in Galway’s University Hospital. One metaphorical belt with a crozier was enough to make naughty politicians fall into line.
Great, wasn’t it? You’d have thought we’d all have lived happily ever after. But one church isn’t the state and the state isn’t a church.
A secular state must allow its citizens as much freedom as possible. The limits are to be set by elected representatives and not by the bishops or the General Assembly. Is anyone here in the North proposing that Gay Marriage should be made compulsory? And, are the churches to be forced to conduct gay marriage ceremonies? Of course not.
If it were so, we’d all be justifiably annoyed. The only proposal is for gay people who want to get married to be allowed to do so. How does that threaten those who have a different view? The state would simply be giving its citizens freedom of choice. Justice Minister David Ford, an elder in the Presbyterian Church, came under pressure from fellow church members as he intended to vote in favour of gay marriage. It didn’t occur to his critics that he wasn’t elected to represent the Presbyterian Church. There’s no reason why an elected politician can’t personally be opposed to gay marriage but also to understand that he or she has a wider responsibility to those with a different view. Meanwhile, in Dublin, government figures have stressed that they will legislate for limited abortion in spite of trenchant opposition from Catholic bishops. Cardinal Seán Brady has warned that TDs have “a solemn duty” to oppose the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. We’ll see what happens. Were the TDs elected by the Catholic Church or by the people of Ireland? Isn’t it long past time that we understood the principle of separating church and state? It’s interesting that here in the North the most strident opposition to gay marriage has come from unionists. Aren’t they the ones who’re so keen on fighting in Afghanistan? Wouldn’t it be more logical if they were to tell us how much they admire the Taliban model of fundamentalist rule? Ireland can never be re-united on the basis that the Protestant churches can continue to rule in the North and Catholic Church can continue to rule in the South.