Vote Yes for Marriage Equality, and No to the Presidential Referendum, this Friday

Atheist Ireland held a press conference yesterday to support a Yes vote for marriage equality on Friday 22 May, and a No vote to the Presidential age change referendum on the same day. The reason for both recommendations is the same: to protect and promote human rights, and to reduce religious discrimination in Ireland.

Vote Yes for Marriage Equality, and No to the Presidential Referendum, this Friday

20 thoughts on “Vote Yes for Marriage Equality, and No to the Presidential Referendum, this Friday

  1. Michael I thought you may like to read with a canon layer had to say about the Bishops threat:

    Bad ideas know no borders
    I do not know Irish marriage law but my impression is that it operates rather as does marriage law in the United States, specifically, that clergy who officiate at religious weddings can certify those rites for civil effects. Some Irish prelates, however, faced with the possibility that Ireland might recognize “same-sex marriage”, are apparently threatening to refuse to certify any religious weddings for the state, such that Catholic spouses who wish the civil benefits of marriage (and they are many!) would have to go through a second, state-sponsored ceremony to secure those benefits.

    If that is the idea, then it’s just as bad an idea in Ireland as it is over here. I’ve made this argument many times, but will summarize again.

    The State has a right to know who is married and married couples have the right to the civil benefits accorded married couples. It is a good for the State and a good for the faithful if immediate and direct civil recognition can be accorded couples married in religious ceremonies. No one can seriously argue otherwise….. the rest can be found at

  2. Emmanuel,

    I’m not sure where “over here” is in your case, but I can assure you that the separation of roles as obtains between church and civil roles works perfectly fine here in France.

    I’d go further: it grants divorced people slightly more inclusion. Some churches will actually perform a blessing (not a marriage) for couple who have just had a civil ceremony but who can’t be married in a church by dint of either or both of them being divorced.

    You also undermine your point when you say “such that Catholic spouses who wish the civil benefits of marriage (and they are many!) ”

    The “and they are many” is a powerful case for the oint that the benefits (and there are many) should be available to all.

    I thaank you for your support for SSM.

  3. Well, looks like you won!

    From homosexuality being a criminal offence to a 2/3 majority in favour of gay marriage in twenty two years!

  4. BRAVO!!! Looks as if you won; congratulations on all that hard work paying off, AI!

  5. Bravo Ireland, and AI.

    Now, just think how truly grand the victory could have been if you’d done this fight PZ-Stylee with yelling shouting and hiding in angry fear behind your mighty green keyboards!


  6. Rebecca Watson’s sneering at this victory on Twatter is beyond disgusting.

  7. A superb victory for genuine activism. I’d say I couldn’t believe that anyone who considers themselves a liberal progressive could be upset by or dismissive of this news, but sadly I know better. Stuff the haters, though. Keep your spirits high and turn it into momentum for future change. The grumblers will remain inert.

  8. Shatterface #7:

    Given the magnitude of the occasion she could have at least given the Yessers the weekend to celebrate, even if she had a valid point. Instead it became about her — A-Grade narcissism.
    All the time M. Nugent spent on this gay marriage thing could have been spent on more productive pursuits, like writing mean blog posts about Ron Lindsay.

  9. Shatterface @7

    Well, her petty sneer is basically lost amid the wholly justified jubilation — except insofar as it adds somewhat to ironic hilarity to see RW produce such a petulant “fallacy of relative privation” tweet.

    Activists in Ireland really achieved something with such a result on Friday’s referendum; the appropriate resonse is wholehearted congratulation.

  10. The correct response to this isn’t ‘Don’t celebrate till you solve the next problem’ it’s ‘Let’s celebrate and tackle the next problem’.

    There’s always going to be another problem and you can’t defer celebrations endlessly.

    The US still has the death penalty and the highest prison population in the world: they have a long way to go before they catch up with Ireland.

    But that doesn’t mean they should cancel Martin Luther King Day until they sort the rest of their shit out.

  11. While I join in thanking Michael and AI in the efforts on this front, some people in here seem to be of the opinion that this was entirely an AI effort. This is not a victory for AI. It is a victory for Ireland which as a whole has vastly more progressive views than even 20 years ago. The whole of Irish society has changed. I strongly suspect that even had AI done nothing at all, this would have been a yes vote, but that said, every effort made is welcome and would not be diminished even were this the case.

    The logic for the no vote on the Presidential bit was hideous.

  12. Thanks for all the positive reaction to this historic result.

    HH, I agree with your analysis about the causes. Here is part of what I said in my talk in Germany after the result was known:

    “What has caused these momentous changes from an Ireland of terrorism and religious bigotry to an Ireland where, despite those problems not yet being solved, we can at last look to the future with optimism?

    Most of it has been the inevitable tide of history, with the developed world becoming more peaceful and secular, with advances in democracy, education, and communications technology. And part of it has been the organised campaigns, by so many people, on both sides of the border, against terrorism and religious bigotry, and for democratic secular values.”

    “I don’t for a moment believe that we, as peace campaigners, directly caused the Belfast Agreement to happen. I don’t for a moment believe that we, as secular campaigners, directly caused the marriage equality referendum to happen.

    In both cases, I believe that we were reflecting a public mood that was bubbling away under the surface, that eventually found expression when accidents of history enabled it to do so.

    That is how political change happens. We live in a world where, from the collapse of the Berlin Wall to the end of apartheid in South Africa to yesterday’s referendum in Ireland, momentous changes can happen that would have seemed unthinkable just a short time previously.

    We don’t know when these changes will happen, or what exactly will trigger them, but we do know that, when they do happen, they can happen with a speed and ferocity that is irresistible.

    And when that accident of history comes about, all of the political work that we have been doing will become retrospectively useful, having put in place the foundations on which to institutionalise the new changes that are happening.”

  13. HH, the logic for our position on the presidential age vote was sound.

    Personally, I would be happy with no age limit, and with some other test of a candidate’s capability of performing the job, but I was not articulating my preference but the position of Atheist Ireland.

    There is no reason for Atheist Ireland to take a position one way or another on the age of the President, but there is a reason for Atheist Ireland to take a position on a measure that reinforces and extends discrimination against atheists.

    I will try to find time soon to elaborate on it in more detail, but in the meantime can you please let me know what you believe was wrong with our logic?

  14. Hi Michael,
    Sorry about the slow response.

    First, I just want to make clear that I was not denigrating in any way the work you and the other people at AI have done in campaigning for the yes vote on gay marriage. I was sincere in the thanks I offered and I believe such work is always valuable and worthwhile.

    I would agree with the statements you referenced regarding political change and the manner in which it tends to come about. It think it is relevant to point out that while attitudes can certainly change very quickly on specific issues such change is not always rapid. Where civil and human rights are concerned, I know of no example in history where all groups facing discrimination where suddenly granted their rights en-masse. History is a progression of pitched battles on single issues. It would be unfair for example to criticise the efforts of MLK because he was not also fighting for gay rights. Societies are not always equally ready for changes in civil or human rights. For this reason I think it is an unwise position to take, to reject the removal of one form of discrimination because another is not addressed. With every civil or human right won, the case for continuing to deny others is harder to make. I think this is relevant to AI’s position on the age issue.

    Specifically regarding the logic of the position adopted by AI regarding the presidential age vote:

    I would paraphrase the position adopted by AI as something like the following:
    “AI urges a no vote because in the event of a yes vote, the number of atheists being discriminated against will increase. This increase will occur because more atheists (those between the ages of 21 and 35) will now be discriminated against on the grounds of a religious oath being required to take the office, whereas only atheist over the age of 35 where previously discriminated against in this way. AI is primarily focused on atheist issues and rights and as such cannot endorse expanding the discrimination against atheists.”

    If I have mischaracterised the AI position please correct me.
    From a logical standpoint this makes no sense to me.

    Consider the following statements:
    1. All conscientious atheists are discriminated against in taking the office of the President as there is a requirement to swear a religious oath.
    2. All people under the age of 35 are discriminated against in taking the office of the President as there is a requirement that candidates for the office be at least 35 years of age.

    If the second requirement is removed and no other prohibitions put in place, it doesn’t make sense to say that discrimination is increasing. The discrimination that exists after its removal was in effect before its removal, it is just that some people weren’t even considered for (1) by virtue of having been already been disallowed on the basis of (2).
    The AI position also seems unethical to me as AI has taken the position of actively working to maintain one form of discrimination (2) because another (1) will be maintained.

    Consider the inverse scenario. The referendum is one removing the religious oath. A youth advocacy group is urging everyone to vote no on removing the religious oath because if it is passed young people who are atheists (previous prevented from taking the office because of a religious oath) will now be eligible to become president but will be disallowed by the existing prohibition against anyone under 35 holding the office.

    This group would be actively taking proactive measures to ensure atheists continue to be discriminated against because the discrimination they are concerned with was not addressed.
    Would you see the position of this group as either logical or ethical?

    To further illustrate the point, consider that instead of a prohibition against young people holding the office, there was instead a prohibition against women holding the office.

    If my paraphrasing was accurate earlier, would AI be comfortable taking the following position:
    “AI urges a no vote because in the event of a yes vote, the number of atheists being discriminated against will increase. This increase will occur because more atheists (women) will now be discriminated against on the grounds of a religious oath being required to take the office, whereas only male atheists where previously discriminated against in this way. AI is primarily focused on atheist issues and rights and as such cannot endorse expanding the discrimination against atheists.”

    The key problem is that AI is proactively acting to maintain an existing discrimination (that somewhat ironically applies to exactly the atheists who will be the new group of atheists discriminated against) because a different discrimination will not be removed. This does not seem logical to me.

    If AI were to hold consistently to this logic, it would vote yes to any measure which reduced the number of people eligible to hold the office. If there were a referendum on changing the constitution so that only white men over the age of 70 could be President, AI would vote yes as the number of atheists being discriminated against on the grounds of a religious oath would be dramatically lowered.

    AI has a history of promoting positive ethical positions; its recent advocacy for marriage equality is a case in point. Given this history, I found the position AI adopted on the presidential age issue puzzling. I am happy to say that I don’t have any fears that AI members secretly wish to discriminate against young people and as such, I am eager to hear more about the reasoning that led you to adopt the position that you did.

  15. HH,

    As an overview, your analysis of our reasoning represents only part of our reasoning. You are underestimating our concerns about the Government refusing to remove the religious oath, and you are overestimating our concerns about the age limit issue.

    This is not merely a standalone issue. The UN has repeatedly told Ireland that the religious oath is a breach of our human rights. The only excuse that the Irish Government has given for not removing it is that it would require a referendum to change that Article of the Constitution, and such a referendum was not a political priority. Yet now they WERE having a referendum to change that very same Article of the Constitution, but were doing so in a way that not only did not remove the breach of human rights, but extended it.

    Also, this is part of a pattern whereby the Irish Government is repeatedly doing this. They are doing it in the Civil Registration Act, they are doing it the Schools Admissions Bill, and they re doing it in the proposal to change the right of schools to discriminate against teachers. In each of these areas, they are changing laws that allow discrimination against atheists, and changing them in a way that retains discrimination against atheists. They are, in effect, repeatedly and consistently saying that you are allowed to continue to discriminate against atheists as long as you don’t also discriminate against other groups.

    On the other side of the equation, while it may seem counterintuitive, an age limit for President does not in principle discriminate against anybody, because it applies equally to everybody. We have age limits for any number of things in society, and they would only be discriminatory if they applied differently to different categories of people, or if they had no legitimate purpose, or if the means applied to reach that purpose were disproportionate to the legitimate purpose.

    But the Presidential age limit does not do this: it applies equally to everybody, it has a legitimate purpose (that the President of the country should have some degree of life experience and wisdom), and the means applied (an age limit) is proportionate to that legitimate purpose. Personally I would prefer to see the age limit lower (in fact personally I would prefer no age limit but a different test), but that is a judgment call rather than a question of discrimination.

    Ironically, if you were to see the age limit as a question of discrimination, then, if the age limit was reduced, that would retrospectively discriminate against older citizens, because they could never avail of the right to run for President while under 35. But if you see it as a question of proportionate means for a legitimate purpose, then reducing the age limit would not be retrospective discrimination, but would be making a judgment call on the job requirements of being President.

  16. Hi Michael,

    Apologies for the glacial pace of this response.

    I was aware of AI’s frustration with the government’s refusal to remove the religious oath and the dishonest reason provided. I share AI frustration on this point. I was not really suggesting that AI saw the age limit as particularly important, if anything I would say it was obvious from the voting recommendation that AI most certainly was not concerned on that point.

    What I don’t understand is why a no vote particularly, rather than a yes vote, is at all relevant to the governments refusing to remove the religious oath and their dishonest reason for rejecting the proposal. Regardless of which vote you cast, you are participating in the referendum, so this cannot be any kind of protest vote. Can you explain why the one thing is related to the other?

    Also, I would have to object again that when an entire class of people are discriminated against by virtue of said class, in this case ‘Atheist’, and some subset are discriminated against by virtue of being a member of some other class, ‘being under 35’, that when the second restriction is removed, the amount of people discriminated against in the first class increases. This does not make sense to me. Consider this reasoning:

    I hate, and refuse to eat, all green fruits.

    I hate, and refuse to eat, all fruits that have pips.

    These green grapes, which used to have pips, have been engineered to no longer have pips.

    Therefore, I now hate and refuse to eat, more green fruits than before.

    As to the other points you mention where the Irish government is being discriminatory against atheists in myriad ways, I again agree. I am very happy that there is an organisation of dedicated people willing to oppose this discrimination and work to remove it. AI again has my thanks and gratitude for this work.

    I am a little surprised to see you make the argument about the age limit not really discriminating against anyone by virtue of the fact that everyone is held to the same standard. It is surprising to me as the only other argument that I have heard that employs the same reasoning goes something like this:

    “Current marriage legislation does not discriminate against anyone. Gay people are allowed to marry people of the opposite sex just like straight people and straight people, just like gay people, are prohibited from marrying people of the same sex. These rules apply equally to everyone. “

    I doubt you would find this argument compelling and for the same reasons I do not find your argument with regard to age compelling.

    While you are correct in saying that we have age limits for many things, these are based on valid assumptions that minors are not sufficiently developed to engage in certain behaviours (drinking, driving, consent to contract, consent to sex, etc). All of these restrictions, so far as I am aware, are removed by the age of 21 when people are deemed responsible enough to make such decisions and be held accountable for their actions. Such restrictions exist because of brute biological factors. Even were this not the case (especially given some of the candidates for the last presidential election) you would have your work cut out for you to suggest that all of these candidates surpassed all or even most 34-year-olds in the country in these regards.
    It is entirely legitimate to suggest that any given candidate may lack these qualities and as such are unsuitable for the position. However, to suggest that simply being older than 34 dramatically increases the prevalence of these traits would be a difficult proposition to sustain. The reason I would personally reject the imposition of the age limit on the office is that it is completely unnecessary. I object to any unnecessary discrimination. Candidates are required to garner support for their presidential bid and in the doing of that will have to demonstrate presidential character. I have personally encountered far to many people of advanced years, who lacked wisdom almost entirely and who had a rather myopic life experience to be convinced that the prevalence of such traits in those over the age of 35 are a good reason for the discrimination. As each candidate will be judged for these traits anyway, why impose the age limit?

    On your final point regarding retrospective discrimination I am again a little puzzled by the logic. Any group who wins previously denied rights will have exactly this problem. A black person who now has the right to do x will of temporal necessity be denied the right to do x a year ago when they were y age. Other black people will be able to avail of that right at y age. This would make a bad argument for opposing the removal of discriminatory laws in my view.


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