Alan Shatter has other things on his mind these days to be sure, but the other day he still managed to provide a written answer to a question from Mattie McGrath on whether religious schools will still be allowed to teach that marriage is between a man and a woman in the event of same-sex marriage being passed here.
The question was as follows: “To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality further to Parliamentary Question No. 399 of 11 March 2014, if and when same sex marriage is passed, if denominational schools will still be allowed to teach that marriage is between one man and one woman only; if they will be forced to teach that same sex marriage is equally legitimate; and if he will make a statement on the matter.”
The reply was: “As I indicated in my response to Parliamentary Question No. 399 of 11 March 2014, ‘No school will be obliged to change its religious teachings in relation to marriage’. Of course, where a school covers issues relating to civil marriage in its teaching programme, it is to be presumed that it would, in doing this, provide full and accurate factual information on the matter to students. “
I’m not entirely sure Mr Shatter’s response really answers the question. He seems to be saying that religious schools will be allowed to teach about what they think marriage is but will also have to teach that the State has a different view of what marriage is.
This is fine insofar as it goes. A Catholic school in the UK, for example, could explain to pupils why it thinks abortion is wrong while at the same time explaining British law in respect of abortion.
But would a Catholic or other religious school still, in fact, be allowed to teach that the marriage of two people of the same sex isn’t a marriage at all given its understanding of what marriage is, or would that in some way fall foul of equality legislation?
I can easily imagine this happening unless there is some explicit constitutional protection given to religious schools in the event of same-sex marriage passing. I can’t see Minister Shatter offering this.