Members of the congregation in the parish of Annagry, Co. Donegal, walked out of Mass last Saturday night to display their unhappiness at criticism made by the priest about a GAA footballer’s stance on same-sex marriage.

Éamon McGee, member of the 2012 Donegal All-Ireland winning football panel, publicly announced his support for marriage equality recently and his intention to vote yes in the upcoming referendum on same-sex marriage.

According to the Donegal Daily, McGee’s stance was heavily criticized during a sermon last weekend by Annagry parish priest, Father John Britto.

Fr. Britto announced that McGee was wrong in his support for gay marriage and in his support of a yes vote. The comments angered several church-goers who chose to leave the Church in support of McGee, who plays club football just a few miles away with his hometown club in Gweedore.

The All-Ireland winning corner-back has played an active role in the promotion of same-sex marriage and attended the launch of Yes Equality’s nationwide voter engagement initiative in February. Speaking to the Irish Examiner, McGee said, “If I ever have a child and he or she turns out to be gay, they could say to me ‘you had a chance to make a difference in that vote.’ I don’t know would I be more ashamed that I didn’t vote or the fact I voted against it. It comes down to equality and one less difference in society.”

He also referenced the openly-gay GAA player Dónal Óg Cusack saying, “If you look at the statistics, I think there are going to be more and more and more. Fair play to Dónal Óg. It’s something that when people do come out they can see the reaction that he got and the majority of it was supportive. If anybody has to make a choice, they’ll be able to look at that and say ‘this isn’t such a big thing.’”

The Donegal Daily spoke to a woman present at the mass who said, “A few people walked out; Father Britto was giving a very robust sermon on gay marriage and said McGee was wrong.”

McGee had previously acknowledged to the Examiner that the GAA could play a strong influence on Irish society, “There’s no point lying about it: there’s certain aspects of GAA folk that are traditionalists, have Catholic viewpoints and are old school. They will view this with a bit of suspicion, this lifestyle. Maybe that’s 20-30% of them, 30% maximum. The majority of the GAA are coming on now to it.

“The GAA’s a good indicator. It comes into every aspect of society from the cities to the rural communities. I think society in general is coming to accept it but you’re always going to get those one or two traditionalists that are slow to change. Gradually, it’s coming. These people are entitled to their viewpoints and it’s unfair on me to call them ignorant.”

The mid-sermon walk out comes as a GAA referee voiced his disappointment at being refused permission to wear a Gay Pride wristband while he refereed the Dublin and Tyrone national league match in Croke Park last weekend. Top referee David Gough told the Sunday Independent, "I was told flatly that I could not do it. I am disappointed, dismayed and feel I, and all gay members of the association, have been let down." The GAA claimed that as an apolitical association it could not allow political statements such as the wristband on the pitch although members can promote their own political views elsewhere.

The Yes Vote stepped up their campaign on Monday with a message from an Irish couple married for 50 years on why they supported same-sex marriage. Brighid and Paddy, devout Catholics from Dundalk, took part in the #VoteWithUS campaign and ask Irish voters to vote yes with them to ensure marriage equality for their grandchildren. Paddy even comments, “Twenty years ago I probably would have voted no. But now that I know gay people and see the love and joy they can bring to life, I will be voting yes.”

A campaign has also been established to encourage Irish emigrants to return home to vote in the referendum. Irishman, Joey Kavanagh, who has lived in London since 2014, launched the campaign Get The Boat 2 Vote to encourage as many Irish citizens eligible to vote in the May 22 referendum to return home to do so.

Should priests use their sermon to speak on issues such as marriage equality or are the days of pulpit-politics behind us? Should GAA players and referees publicly announce their own voting choice? Leave your opinions in the comments section below.