20 May 2015

Colm Toibin: Catholic church ‘neutered’ on gay marriage

The writer Colm Toibin says the Catholic church “has no moral authority to speak on civil matters” ahead of Ireland’s gay marriage referendum.

Toibin, who is gay and the author of novels including The Master, The Blackwater Lightship and The Story of the Night, told Channel 4 News that if gay marriage was approved, parents of gay teenagers would be able to say: “Look, you’re embraced by the people of Ireland in a referendum. There is now nothing to stop you being happy. The society has changed in your favour. I think that will be a wonderful day for Ireland.”

The Irish will vote on Friday to decide whether to allow same-sex couples to marry with the same constitutional rights as couples of the opposite sex. Opinion polls suggest the measure is likely to be approved.

What is the difference between my love if you’re gay and your love if you’re not gay that makes my love lesser than yours?

Unlike Britain, where gay marriage has been legal since 2014 after being approved in parliament, Ireland is seeking popular consent in a referendum because of its constitution.

‘These people should not be discriminated against’

Toibin said: “This referendum is not a piece of legislation coming from government, from the top, so there’s an argument, or in a way an effort, to persuade the people of Ireland to look at us and say, ‘Actually, these people should be treated decently and these people should not be discriminated against’.”

Approving gay marriage would be significant in a country with deep Catholic roots. Last weekend, Catholic bishops published a letter warning that the vote could profoundly change the understanding of marriage and parenthood.

But Toibin said that after revelations about clerical abuse, the church “has no moral authority to speak on civil matters… and I don’t notice them speaking much on spiritual matters, so that they’re sort of neutered”.

‘Don’t do that to my son’

There had been “real change within families”, with gay people’s parents demanding more for them. “It’s really about families and individuals who are saying, ‘Look, don’t do that to my son, don’t do that to my daughter, don’t do it to my cousin’. It’s an intimate society, everyone knows someone know who is gay, or whose brother is gay, or his cousin is gay.

“What has also, I think, been key here is the women’s movement. I think that women in families realise if anyone thinks that my son, because he’s gay, is going to be victimised, I’’m going to do something to stop that.”

“The issue is: what is the difference between my love if you’re gay and your love if you’re not gay that makes my love lesser than yours?”

“And if you think my love is lesser than yours, who have you asked and how do you know? The question is really about degrees of love.”

“And if you’re gay, I think you’re pretty sure in the way you’ve lived your life that actually love for all of us, we’re human, we’re the same, and we would like that to be publically recognised and under our constitution.”