News Roundup

German parliament passes same-sex marriage, Merkel votes No

Days after Angela Merkel changed course to allow deputies in her party a free vote, the Bundestag in Germany passed same-sex marriage by a majority of 393 to 226. The legislation also grants same-sex couples full adoption rights. Mrs Merkel herself voted no to the bill. “For me, marriage in the German constitution is between a man and a woman. That’s why I voted no today,” Mrs Merkel told journalists after the vote. Some advocates of the move blasted Ms Merkel for opportunism for having opposed the redefinition of marriage for years, only to do an about face in the run up to an election where it was to be a major issue of the opposition Social Democrats (SDP) party. Justin Huggler of the Telegraph said, “By allowing a snap vote, Mrs Merkel has effectively removed gay marriage as an election issue and robbed Mr Schulz [of the SDP] of one of the few policy areas on which he could claim more popular support than her.


Judge urges TDs to ‘respect’ Citizens’ Assembly’s radical abortion recommendations

In delivering the report of the Citizen’s Assembly to the Oireachtas, Justice Mary Laffoy urged TDs and Senators to pay due regard to its conclusions. “I urge the members of the Oireachtas to view their recommendations with the respect and due consideration they deserve,” she said. The report consisted of an 83 page document and two large appendices running to over 1000 pages and recommended a widespread liberalisation of the country’s abortion laws. An Oireachtas committee is to consider the report and propose a concrete political path forward. A referendum is expected in 2018, and commentators are already cautioning about the political sensitivities involved, not least because Pope Francis is due to visit Dublin in August next year to attend the World Meeting of Families.


Minister Bruton’s Catholic Schools Admissions policy reform faces major questions

Proposals to block Catholic schools from offering any preference to Catholic children in their admissions policies faced major questions last night regarding its legality and suitability. Fianna Fail’s education spokesman, Thomas Byrne, said a “huge” amount of work on the legality of the proposal has not been done by the Education Minister, Richard Bruton. “The revelation that he has failed to carry out even the most basic of constitutionality checks indicates that he hasn’t put much effort into his plan. The groundwork clearly hasn’t been carried out,” Mr Byrne said. Minister Bruton’s plan would block Catholic schools from favouring members of their own denomination, but would allow minority schools to do so in order to “protect their ethos”.  Spokespeople for Catholic schools pointed to a buildings deficit as the real problem and decried the so-called “baptism barrier” as a red herring. Séamus Mulconry of the Catholic Primary School Management Association said just one per cent of those turned down a school place in the Dublin area did not have a Baptism certificate, based on a survey of its schools. “The issue the Minister rightfully seeks to address has more to do with the lack of school places than anything to do with an issue surrounding Baptism certificates,” he said.


Northern Ireland Abortion Law stands, says Court of Appeal, but England’s NHS will pay for abortions for NI women

In a major judgement yesterday, the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland ruled that the region’s strict abortion laws do not breach European Human Rights law and they refused to unilaterally widen the grounds for abortion. Setting out the judgment, Lord Justice Gillen said: “The imposition of personal opinions of professional judges in matters of this kind lacks constitutional legitimacy. Courts should not make decisions freighted with the individual attitudes of the judiciary.” Lord Chief Justice Morgan said he was conscious of the need for judicial restraint in dealing with issues of moral and political judgment: “In light of the wide margin of appreciation recognised by the European jurisprudence and the decisive vote within the Assembly I do not consider that it is open to the courts to derive a right to abortion from the Convention.” Lord Justice Weatherup held that it was for the Assembly, not the Courts, to determine whether to amend existing abortion law. The scope of the 1861 act, as defined by the Court in 1939, he said, “should not be reinterpreted by the Court after 80 years. The appropriate forum for amendment of the 1861 Act is the Assembly, although any such amendment has been rejected to date.”

Numerous pro-life groups lauded the decision, while the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, who originally brought the case to court, have already lodged an appeal to the Supreme Court in the United Kingdom.

 Meanwhile, in Westminister, it was announced that the National Health Service would change its existing policy and start paying for abortions in England for women from Northern Ireland.

Education Minister to end Catholic Schools’ faith-preference admissions policy

Minister for Education Richard Bruton has announced that he will end the policy of Catholic schools preferring members of their own faith when schools are oversubscribed. The change will not apply to minority faith. Minister Bruton said he is doing this so that parents will no longer have to baptise their children simply to get them into a local Catholic school, even though this is extremely rare. Opposition to the plan has already been voiced. The educational office of the Catholic bishops said the move was unfair and will treat Catholic parents differently from all other faiths, while the chief executive of the Catholic Schools Partnership, Ferdia Kelly, said the plans will not solve the problem of access to over-subscribed schools as no additional places are being provided. He also questioned the constitutionality of the measures which will be “examined carefully” by the sector.


Drumbeat for abortion grows louder and louder

A growing chorus of voices is calling for the widespread liberalisation of the county’s abortion laws.

Yesterday, an international seminar in Dublin said that ‘best healthcare practice’ includes sexuality education, affordable contraception and the provision of safe and high-quality abortion. The seminar also heard the claim that the provision of a liberal abortion law actually reduces the incidence of abortion. The seminar was timed to coincide with the release of the report of the Citizens’ Assembly which includes recommending abortion on very wide-ranging grounds. Meanwhile, for the first time ever, a TD has spoken publicly of having had an abortion herself. Brid Smith, T.D., of People Before Profit told an Irish Times podcast, “I had an abortion in the 1980s when I was in my twenties. I was never ashamed of that abortion.” Deputy Smith is campaigning for repeal of the Eight Amendment that protects the right to life of the unborn. Regarding that campaign, she said, “we have a fight on our hands”.


Merkel changes stance on same-sex marriage in Germany

In a major change of party policy, Angela Merkel said on Monday that the issue of legalising same-sex marriage in Germany should be treated as a “question of conscience”. Previously, Ms Merkel’s party, the Christian Democrats had insisted on opposition to same-sex marriage as a matter of party policy to which all members had to adhere. This change opens the possibility of a vote on the issue as soon as this Friday as most other parties in the Bundestag already favour same-sex marriage.


British Medical Association calls for complete decriminalisation of abortion

The British Medical Association’s membership has voted to make the decriminalisation of abortion official policy. Delegates at the meeting voted by a two thirds majority to call for a change in the law to effectively decriminalise abortion on demand, for any reason, up to 28 weeks. Opponents of the change said it could “open the floodgates” to sex-selective terminations, as well as putting women in abusive relationships at risk of coercion to end their pregnancies.

One opposing speaker placed the debate firmly in the context of the wider political campaign to remove every last vestige of restrictions on abortion. “This motion is . . . coming from a very small minority of extreme campaigners. Please RB [representative body], don’t make the BMA the unwitting stooge of these extremists.”

Commenting on the news, Dr. Anthony McCarthy of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children said: “The BMA has betrayed all who take seriously healthcare for pregnant woman in favor of an extremist agenda in line with the abortion industry’s laissez faire ‘up to birth’ attitude to ending the lives of unborn children. Against overwhelming public opinion and against those who support women by refusing to trivialise abortion, the BMA has today undermined the consciences of doctors who refuse to follow an ‘autonomy’ agenda that has nothing to do with good medicine and everything to do with ideology.”


US Supreme Court rules exclusion of churches from secular government programs on purely religious grounds is unconstitutional

In landmark decision yesterday, the US Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to deny Government funding to a religious organisation merely because they are religious, if the funds in question are earmarked for non-religious purposes. The case in question centered on a church in Missouri that had applied for State money to help rebuild a children’s playground on Church property. Their application was rejected merely because they were a religious organisation. They appealed to the Supreme Court which heard arguments on the grounds of religious liberty, and separation of Church and State, and the Court decided in their favour by 7 to 2. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution.”

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee of Religious Liberty, released a statement applauding the ruling. “Today’s decision is a landmark victory for religious freedom. The Supreme Court rightly recognized that people of faith should not be discriminated against when it comes to government programs that should be made available to all,” Lori said.


Taoiseach welcomed to Irish mosque to mark end of Ramadan

The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, visited an Islamic Cultural Centre and Mosque in Dublin Sunday to mark the end of the season of Ramadan. The visit was lauded by the Centre’s spokesman, Dr Ali Selim, who called it a “wonderful gesture”. Asked by journalists about the Taoiseach’s sexual orientation, Dr Selim said it was not a point of controversy: “The [Muslim] community in Ireland are living in Ireland where this is allowed by law.” While homosexuality was “not blessed by Islam, people here are not ruled by Islam. They are ruled by the law of Ireland. . . .Homosexuality is strictly forbidden in Islam hence it is not practised in the Muslim community, and if it is practiced it is extremely limited,” he said. Where it is found and proven “usually Islam calls on forgiveness and people have to be given the benefit of the doubt. It can be forgiven”. Its practice was “a renunciation of Islam. If they believe what they are doing is wrong and they still practice it they are still Muslims but they are committing a sin”, he said.

Asked about cases of gay people being thrown off buildings to their deaths by the extremist Islamist group Isis, Mr Selim said “Isis live in a different context. They have their own understanding and interpretation of Sharia. Sharia law is similar to Irish law, it is entirely dependent on the way you interpret it.”