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Referendum threat could mean 4,000 fewer priests to sign off on marriages

Catholic priests are threatening to stop acting as solemnisers.

Image: marriage via Shutterstock

THERE WOULD BE about 4,000 fewer people available to perform the civil duties of marriage in Ireland if Catholic priests refuse to act as solemnisers if next month’s referendum is passed.

Just more than 1,100 people would be available for the task, according to figures for April 2015 analysed by this website.

Currently, men and women who get married in a Catholic church also complete the civil part of the ceremony there because priests agree to double jobbing.

Catholic bishops warned in a submission, criticised as “mean-spirited”, to the Constitutional Convention that if same-sex marriage became legal in Ireland, priests would be barred from performing these duties.

Therefore, couples who want to get married in a Catholic church would be required to take part in two separate ceremonies. However, other groups have moved to allay fears over this by noting that it is the norm in other European countries, and criticised the church for ‘scaremongering’.

Following reports in The Irish Times yesterday on the issue, a spokesperson for the Catholic Communications Office said that no decision has been made “regarding the implications for solemnisation of a redefinition of marriage in the Constitution of Ireland.

It is important to note that in Ireland the Church and State co-operate closely in the solemnisation of marriages and that in excess of 70% of marriages in the Republic of Ireland are celebrated by couples choosing the Christian celebration of marriage with both elements taking place within the same ceremony.

“Any change to the definition of marriage would create great difficulties and in the light of this if there were two totally different definitions of marriage the Church could no longer carry out the civil element.”

Dr Richard O’Leary of Faith in Marriage Equality (FiME) has criticised this move by the church, slamming it as “mean-spirited”, but noted it would a situation similar to that of other European countries:

“If the Catholic Bishops decide not to facilitate the signing of the civil marriage register at the church premises, these couples would only have to do what is the norm in many European states, including France i.e. sign it on a separate occasion.”

This threat comes across as mean-spirited. It is an an over-reaction and scaremongering in advance of the referendum on civil marriage for same sex couples.

This civil element takes place after the religious ceremony and involves signing a Marriage Registration Form in the presence of two witnesses.

It must also be overseen and signed by a solemniser of marriages, of which there are currently 5,823 registered with the Department of Social Protection, with 5,189 operating in the Republic of Ireland.

The majority belong to religious organisations, such as the Presbyterian and Baptist churches as well as the Church of Ireland, along with minority groups like The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Ireland, and the Religious Society Of Friends.

A small number of belong to the Humanist Association Of Ireland, and the HSE also has a number of civil solemnisers in Civil Registration Offices across the country.

However, Roman Catholic solemnisers make up 78% (4,046) of those registered.


This would mean each remaining solemniser would need to take part in roughly 18 weddings per year.

The process for becoming one isn’t too straight forward for secular organisations, which must meet criteria set out in the Civil Registration Act 2004. As Tánaiste Joan Burton explained previously, it must be:

  • In existence for at least five years
  • An organised group of people who have secular, ethical and humanist beliefs in common, have a minimum of 50 people and meet on a regular basis.
  • Cannot have the making of profit as one of its main purposes.
  • Must not be chambers of commerce, organisations that are political, sporting/athletic, trade union/representative in nature and bodies that promote purposes that are unlawful, are contrary to public policy or morality, in support of terrorism or terrorist activities or for the benefit of an organisation of which membership is unlawful.

Poll: How will you vote in the same-sex marriage referendum? >

Read: Bishop ‘regrets any hurt caused’ by saying gay couples with children are not parents >

About the author:

Nicky Ryan

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