Irish bishops appeal for protecting identity of family amid March 8 constitutional referendum

DUBLIN (OSV News) -- A constitutional referendum scheduled for March 8 could weaken the incentive for young people to get married, Ireland's bishops have warned.

A second vote to be held on the same day will, if passed, delete all references to motherhood from the foundational document, the prelates said.

The Irish government announced late last year that it intended to ask the people to amend the 1937 document to provide for a wider concept of family and further to delete a provision on the role of stay-at-home mothers in favor of recognizing overall caregiving instead.

If the referendum passes, the document will change the definition of the family to being either "founded on marriage or on other durable relationships."

It's further proposed to remove the reference to marriage as the one on which the "family is founded."

The bishops stop short of call for a "no" vote on either proposal, but in a statement read at Masses the weekend before the vote, they said the family is the foundational cell of society and is essential to the common good because it is based on "the exclusive, lifelong and life-giving public commitment of marriage."

"The Constitution rightly qualifies the Family as a 'moral institution' and one that enjoys 'inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law,'" they said."We are concerned that 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."

They bishops describe the term "durable relationship" as "shrouded in legal uncertainty" and open to "wide interpretation."

In a separate vote, citizens will be asked whether they want to delete the so-called "mothers in the home" section where the document currently "recognizes that by her life within the home, woman gives to the state a support without which the common good cannot be achieved."

The Irish Constitution currently obliges the government to "endeavor to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labor to the neglect of their duties in the home."

However, if passed, the referendum would delete this wording and instead recognize "that the provision of care, by members of a family to one another by reason of the bonds that exist among them, gives to society a support without which the common good cannot be achieved and shall strive to support such provision."

While mainstream media characterized the vote, falling on International Women's Day, as one "scrapping 'sexist' language from constitution," the bishops said the move would have "the effect of abolishing all reference to motherhood in the Constitution" and leave "the particular and incalculable societal contribution" that mothers in the home have made, and continue to make, in Ireland unacknowledged.

"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 recognize the provision of care by women and men alike," the bishops said.

- - - Michael Kelly writes for OSV News from Dublin.