In yet another example of the apparent paradox of Catholic nations leading the world on gay rights, Ireland, a quintessential Catholic society, has legalized same-sex marriage. Before Ireland, there was Uruguay, France, and Brazil (the world’s largest Catholic nation as well as the largest same-sex marriage state) in 2013; Argentina and Portugal three years before that; and Spain, the country that inaugurated the trend of overwhelmingly Catholic nations legalizing same-sex marriage, five years before that.
When Spain’s same-sex marriage law was enacted in 2005, only two other nations, the Netherlands and Belgium, had extended to same-sex couples the right to marry, with the Netherlands having done so only in 2001. As of now, and including Ireland, 19 countries protect that right. Of the almost 600 million people who today live in nations that allow same-sex marriage, more than 60 percent are in Catholic-majority nations—and that tally does not even include the “mini” state of Mexico City, a metropolis of some 20 million people, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2009, or Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador, which allow for same-sex civil unions with benefits that are very similar to marriage.
To explain why Catholic-majority countries such as Ireland have embraced gay marriage, commentators have typically pointed to the decline of the Catholic Church’s moral and political authority across the Catholic world. In Ireland, it came as a result of sex and child abuse scandals; in Spain and Latin America, because of the church’s support of military regimes with reputations for wanton human rights abuses, including the disappearance of left-wing dissidents. But this is only part of the story. Polling data also suggest that Catholics, as a religious group, are more accepting of homosexuality than Protestants and Muslims.
According to Pew: “On average, Catholics are less morally opposed to abortion, homosexuality, artificial means of birth control, sex outside of marriage, divorce and drinking alcohol than are
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