Cardinal O’Brien’s pronouncement that “The Church” strenuously opposes gay marriage and his call for a referendum on the subject is neither unexpected nor relevant. His claim that this is an attack on the institution of marriage is misguided. What it may be is different than the Roman Catholic church understands and sanctions as the sacrament of marriage.
It is time that we opposed strenuously the right of religious organisations to interfere in the activities of the state. Functions which bestow legal rights and apply our laws should be the reserve of our legal institution, totally divorced from religious organisations.
Marriage is a legal union, which the state recognises as a contract between two individuals, until now traditionally of different gender. The law confers certain rights to those entered into such an agreement and the state therefore has an obligation to ensure that all its citizens have the opportunity to enter into this agreement with whomsoever they choose.
Selected religious organisations are currently granted the right to perform the legal function of joining two people into this agreement, and they choose to wrap this up in the trappings of their chosen religious ceremony. If they are not willing to perform the function for all couples, which surely fits with the Christian belief that all people are created equal in the eyes of god, then let them opt of the wedding business altogether.
They can perform their religious ceremonies for those that choose and fit within their narrow confines of acceptability, but these ceremonies should then not bestow the legal status of marriage. Performing the witnessing of the contract would now be better reserved as a function of the state carried out by duly appointed officials free of religious overtones.
On an unrelated note the Catholic Church has a brass neck to be pontificating about anything. Given their history and their ongoing failure to come clean over a multitude of systemic sins they would be better to distribute their counsel only amongst those that specifically choose to seek it- an ever dwindling number.