The May 22 referendum on same-sex marriage will affect the 75 per cent majority of Catholic priests who are registered civil officiators. If the referendum passes, Catholic priests might no longer perform the civil aspect of weddings meaning those who get married in the church will need to attend a separate civil ceremony. CNS photo/Will Oliver, EPA

Irish bishops consider options if same-sex referendum passes

By  Michael Kelly, Catholic News Service
  • April 21, 2015

DUBLIN - Catholic bishops have not made any decision on whether priests should decline to perform civil aspects of weddings if a May 22 referendum on same-sex marriage is passed.

A spokesman for the Irish bishops' conference said the church might no longer perform the civil aspect of weddings, meaning couples wanting to get married in the church would have to attend a separate civil ceremony.

However, a spokesman for Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin emphasized that no decision has been made and that the archbishop's view is that you "cross bridges when they come."

Of the roughly 22,000 marriages in Ireland last year, about 60 per cent took place in the Catholic Church. In these circumstances, the priest who presided at the ceremony, as well as fulfilling the sacramental function, witnessed the solemn contract that gives the relationship legal status under Irish law and confers the rights and obligations related to marriage.

If priests did not solemnize the weddings, couples who get married in Catholic churches would have to go elsewhere to have their marriage legally recognized by the state.

Referring to the May 22 referendum, a spokesman for the bishops' conference said: "If the referendum is passed, the church's view and the state's view of marriage will be radically different. It's reasonable that the bishops may decide to separate the two," referring to church and civil ceremonies.

For a wedding to be legally recognized, it must be solemnized by a person on the register of civil solemnizers. About 4,100 of the more than 5,400 people on the register in Ireland are Catholic priests. A move by the church not to solemnize weddings would result in a significant delay for couples getting their marriage legally recognized by the state.

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