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Two traditionally Catholic countries recently legalized same-sex marriage. In Ireland, the constitution was amended by popular referendum; in Mexico, the legal change has quietly developed in the nation's court systems. Though Catholic bishops and other church officials in each country purport to adhere to the same theological underpinnings and Church teachings, there are glaring differences in their official responses. 

In Ireland, Catholic Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin gave a notable weak response. Prior to the referendum, Archbishop Martin commented that he had  no affiliation with any group of No campaigners” and that he would not tell others how to vote on the issue. Following the referendum, Archbishop Martin, in an interview with Irish broadcasting company RTE, said that the movement was a  social revolution,” and discussed the effectiveness of Catholic education in Ireland, concluding  the Church needs a reality check right across the board.

Archbishop Martin was not alone in his hesitant opposition: In a debate on the Shaun Doherty Show prior to the referendum, Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry remarked that Catholics could vote either Yes or No in good conscience. 

Statements from church officials in Mexico are markedly different than those from the Irish bishops. Msgr Eugenio Lira Rugarcia, secretary general of the Mexican bishop's conference, told the New York Times We reiterate our conviction, based on scientific, anthropological, philosophical, social, and religious reasons, that the family, cell of society, is founded on the marriage of a man and a woman.”

The difference in attitude is clear: high ranking Irish churchmen cast doubt on traditional understandings of marriage (upheld by both church teaching and civil jurisprudence for millennia) and neglect to offer bold leadership of their congregations in adhering to doctrinal norms, while Mexican church leaders restate their dedication to the Christian ideal of marriage. 

Ireland and Mexico provide two examples of how Christians—and church leaders—may respond to civil legalization or endorsement of gay marriage. One response trades clarity for comfort; the other defends and promotes the Scriptural understanding of marriage and sexuality that has had the unwavering support of the Church since its foundation. 

Matthew H. Young is a summer intern at First Things. His writing has been published in Civitas Review, the Carolina Journal, and other publications. 

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