Don’t let referendum go without conversation on marriage – urges Bishop Leahy

Monday, 20 May 2019:   Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy has said that it would be shame to just tick a box for the upcoming referendum on divorce law without first considering the social context and challenges that marriages face today.

In a statement ahead of this weekend’s referendum, Bishop Leahy said that it is important from a Christian faith perspective to vote but that there has been all too little discussion about the divorce referendum.  And he asked for consideration to be given to establishing an agency specifically dedicated to marriage, the promotion of healthy marriages and support to marriages in trouble.

He said:  “Though cohabitation is today much more common than in the past, and though there are today many types of families, the fact is that many people still get married in Ireland. They value marriage, entering into a public pact that essentially says ‘the two of us will move together from here on, build our life-journey together from here on’.  The Referendum is an occasion to acknowledge that we value marriage and reflect further on this. It would be a pity if we simply passed over this opportunity for conversation.”

Marriages, he said, breakdown and we need to look at why, not least given the family’s role in society.  “Generally, people do not run into a divorce lightly. It is a very painful experience for many. I have read one commentator who spoke positively of the current provision of a four-year waiting period before divorce, saying it took them four years to come to terms with their marriage break-up and begin to work their way through it. It is also true that divorce rarely definitively settles a fractured marriage, especially when there are children. It certainly needs to be thought through very carefully.

A Referendum is a legal instrument dealing with a specific question but it would be a shame if we simply ticked a box without taking the chance to reflect on the social context under analysis.”

Data from Accord – the Catholic marriage care service -indicates, he said, that couples often make contact with them in year thirteen of marriage, and that the average age of clients is early to mid-forties. 

We could ask ourselves at this juncture, are there further systems we can put in place to offer social supports to the majority of adults who are in marriage? Might it not be time to consider establishing, alongside our State agencies for children, for family, for youth, an agency specifically dedicated to marriage, the promotion of healthy marriages and support to marriages in trouble?

While voting on the Referendum, it would be good if we might all talk more about a more robust pre-marriage preparation.  The best marriages are the ones where two people approach their union, yes, underpinned by love but also so by acknowledging the reality; knowing that it is not going to be perfect and glorious 24/7, that the first fine rapture of love inevitably dims but that in the natural dimming of that light, the unbreakable bond of friendship can flourish through a true love that knows how to keep taking the first step in outreach to the other, and working together through any darkness.

Because darkness will come; work and financial pressures, temptation to stray to the arms of someone else for a brief but ultimately unfulfilling moment, human weaknesses such as alcoholism, gambling, possibly even drug addiction. Pressures brought on by ill-health.  And so much more.  There’s all that stacked against the bond of true love and, for those who are blessed, the gloriousness of children that help bind it closer.

Marriage is the biggest thing many are going to undertake in their lives and we often reduce it to a day or day and a half course. Is that enough by way of preparation for all the challenges that marriage can bring? Certainly not if what it is aimed at protecting – the family – is as precious as it is.”

So, as we approach this referendum, I would urge those getting married or those in marriage to remember what brought them to this juncture in the first instance – that special and unique bond between two people, inexorably drawn into one unit. How it all started with a spark of undeniable love. Love that is worth fighting for. And in remembering that, recommit to this special union and to call on God for the strength to overcome challenges along the way so that they can preserve the sanctity of this beautiful togetherness that they have entered into.”