Sunday, February 25, 2024

Bishops issue warning on proposed changes on family and care in constitution

Proposed changes to the constitution on family and care would diminish the relationship between marriage and family, Catholic bishops have said.

One, the family amendment, proposes amending Article 41 of the constitution to extend the meaning of family beyond one defined by marriage and include those based on “durable” relationships.

The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference said while “marriage” is a recognised public and legal commitment, the term “durable relationship” is “shrouded in uncertainty and is open to wide interpretation”.

In a statement, it said: “The proposed family amendment to the constitution diminishes the unique importance of the relationship between marriage and family in the eyes of society and State, and is likely to lead to a weakening of the incentive for young people to marry.”

The second proposed change, the care amendment, proposes deleting Article 41.2.1 and 41.2.2, which make reference to a woman’s roles and duties in the home, and replace it with a new article – 42B – that acknowledges family carers.

The bishops argued this will have the effect of abolishing all reference to motherhood in the constitution and leave unacknowledged “the particular and incalculable societal contribution that mothers in the home have made and continue to make in Ireland”.

They said: “The role of mothers should continue to be cherished in our constitution.”

Expanding on their comments about the first referendum, the bishops said family is acknowledged as where stability, care, love and truth can best be taught and learned by children.

They added: “We recognise, of course, that there are families in all our communities which are not founded on marriage.

“They form part of the reality of family life, which Pope Francis described as ‘a challenging mosaic made up of many different realities, with all their joys, hopes and problems’.

“We believe, however, that the commitment of marriage contributes to the common good in a unique way, by bringing stability to the family and to society, and that it consequently deserves the protection of the State, which is currently guaranteed in the constitution of Ireland.”

They said the constitution correctly qualifies the family as a “moral institution” that enjoys inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.

They added: “It does not make sense that such an ambiguous reality would be considered ‘antecedent and superior to all positive law’ and acquire the same ‘inalienable and imprescriptible’ rights as those ascribed to the ‘family founded on marriage’.

“Various commentators have suggested that the term ‘durable relationship’ risks leading to unforeseen and unintended consequences.”

On the care amendment, the bishops questioned what benefit deleting the terms “woman” and “mother” would provide Irish society.

The group said: “People generally recognise the enormous commitment that women in Ireland have given, and continue to give, in relation to care, love and affection in the home.”

The bishops said there is a “welcome co-responsibility between women and men for every aspect of domestic life” in contemporary society.

They added: “We believe that rather than removing the present acknowledgement of the role of women and the place of the home, it would be preferable and consistent with contemporary social values that the State would recognise the provision of care by women and men alike.”

They further argued the proposed term “strive to support” appears to weaken the State’s constitutional responsibility to materially and legislatively support care.

It said the proposed Article 42B does not actually confer any enforceable rights for carers or for those being cared for.