The conservative Catholic who was the first advocate of same-sex marriage…

The conservative Catholic who was the first advocate of same-sex marriage… Franciscan nuns pray outside the Massachusetts Statehouse in this file photo in opposition to same-sex marriage. Photo: CNS
The idea of same-sex marriage was only seriously suggested in the 1990s, and one of the earliest advocates for this cause was the Catholic conservative journalist and writer Andrew Sullivan.

At first, the gay community was divided about same-sex marriage – and some are still opposed to it”

Mr Sullivan, who is from an Irish family background, grew up in England, and later went to work in the US, was the first person in America to write a sensationally received article advocating same-sex marriage, back in 1989.

What was considered piquant was that he wrote this from a conservative viewpoint – Sullivan, who is 59, had been influenced by the conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott while at Oxford, and had even been a Thatcherite.

His viewpoint was that gay marriage would enhance personal fidelity, be a stabilising force in society, and help to make homosexual people part of the community. He had been shaken – as who had not – by the AIDS epidemic, in which so many gay men died. Faithful marriage between same-sex couples was better than more casual relationships: this was perhaps somewhat similar to St Paul’s idea that (heterosexual) marriage was “a remedy against fornication”.

Same-sex marriage

At first, the gay community was divided about same-sex marriage – and some are still opposed to it. Julie Bindel, a British lesbian and women’s rights campaigner, is vehemently hostile to an idea she regards as imitating the “profoundly patriarchal” institution of matrimony. Recently, she suggested that gay marriage is only being promoted because straight marriage is in a state of collapse (at its lowest recording ever in the UK).

Will sacramental same-sex marriage now be introduced in the Catholic Church?”

Yet Andrew Sullivan’s campaign for same-sex marriage soon gathered support and then became successful with unprecedented rapidity. In less than 30 years, most developed societies had enacted legislation for same-sex matrimony and it was widely accepted, and often welcomed, by mainstream society. It was then accepted by some churches – even though there’s a long tradition of Christian (and Jewish) teaching that marriage is “first, for the procreation of children”.

Catholic Church

Will sacramental same-sex marriage now be introduced in the Catholic Church? That’s what an LGBT+ group, set up by Bishop Kevin Doran, is calling for. According to reports, the idea is fine with the general public, including many mainstream Catholics.

Yet, an idea that is only about 30 years old is quite new, in historical terms. In the realms of theological deliberation, rather more time is required for radical change.


Latin was once a lingua franca in Europe, but British government employees are being urged not to use phrases like lingua franca for ‘common language’. A style guide issued by the Westminster government has asked those in office to eschew Latin (and French) tags such as ergo (therefore) and quid pro quo (a favour exchanged) or en route (on the road) when there are plain English equivalents.

This is because modern young people may be alienated or made uncomfortable by lingos they don’t know. The Tik-Tok generation could be confused by legal phrases like de facto and de jure, although this is a useful differentiation between the letter of the law, and what actually happens.

My English teacher, Miss O’Hogan, used to say “if you don’t know the meaning of a word – look it up in a dictionary!” Should I say quod erat demonstrandum to that?


Peerless poet TS Eliot

It was all Bloomsday and Ulysses this week in Dublin – including a recital from James Joyce’s major opus at St Kevin’s Oratory in the pro-cathedral. The Vatican once banned Ulysses, but then so did both Britain and America – though famously, it was never banned in Ireland.

Yet as I’ve referenced previously, for Christians, T.S. Eliot – whose ground-breaking Waste Land was also published in 1922 – may be the more significant writer. Being an Anglo-Catholic was the central aspect of Eliot’s life. His biographer Robert Crawford writes that Eliot placed the deepest importance on Mass and Confession as well as on the liturgy and theology derived from the common strand shared with Catholicism. He took a sacramental view of marriage, and although very unhappy with his first wife Vivienne, who had mental health problems, he could not contemplate divorce.

It was the Irish novelist the late Josephine Hart who introduced me to Eliot’s work: I averred that no one could replace Yeats in my affections, but Josephine said “once you ‘get’ Eliot, you’ll never forsake him”. Indeed so – there is so much depth in Eliot’s work, and its profoundly Christian sensibility is a beacon of spirituality, even including its bleaker moments. As Eliot is still in copyright (he died in 1965), only four lines are permitted for quotation, so I’ll choose these four from the peerless Four Quartets:

“We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.”

Mary Kenny’s upcoming book, The Way We Were: Centenary Essays on Catholic Ireland is available for pre-order now at Columba Books.