Ireland Votes To Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

Hey Ireland, nicely done! From the Guardian:

Some 62% of the Irish Republic’s electorate voted in favour of gay marriage. The result means that a republic once dominated by the Catholic church ignored the instructions of its cardinals and bishops. The huge Yes vote marks another milestone in Ireland’s journey towards a more liberal, secular society.

Out of an electorate of more than 3 million, 1,201,607 backed gay marriage, while 734,300 voters said No. The result prompted a massive street party around the gay district of central Dublin close to the national count centre.

Directly addressing Ireland’s gay community, taoiseach Enda Kenny said the result meant that “a majority of people in this republic have stood up for them [those in the gay community]”. He said: “In the privacy of the ballot box, the people made a public statement. With today’s vote we have disclosed who we are. We are a generous, compassionate, bold and joyful people who say yes to inclusion, yes to generosity, yes to love, yes to gay marriage.”

Irish deputy prime minister and Labour leader Joan Burton added: “The people of Ireland have struck a massive blow against discrimination.”

And quoting the late American politician and LGBT rights activist Harvey Milk, she said: “Hope will never be silent.”

Human rights should never be voted on but it’s nice that when they were here, empathy and facts beat fear and ignorance.

Catholic and other Christian leaders — as opposed to many actual Catholics and Christians — were on the wrong side of history and morality today. They’ll probably pay a very big price for it.

Author: Stephen Whitworth

Prairie Dog editor Stephen Whitworth was carried to Regina in a swarm of bees. He's been with Prairie Dog since May 1999 and will die at his keyboard before admitting his career a terrible, terrible mistake.

17 thoughts on “Ireland Votes To Legalize Same-Sex Marriage”

  1. When the same vote and result happen in Saudi Arabia or Iran, it’ll be news ;-)

    “Human rights should never be voted on…” So true, because they could be voted away just as easily as voted in. If the concept of human rights means anything, it is that they are absolute and universal, not subject to the whim of the majority or to cultural mores. This may be a happy day for the “Yes” side, but what precedent has been set?

  2. Umm, the precedent that we express our changing values and morality through the democratic process?

    I don’t really understand your comment Barb. Are you pro having morality dictated to us?

    Also, by the time this vote and result occur in Saudi Arabia or Iran it won’t be “news” by your standards either. 70 years ago this would have been unthinkable in Ireland, or any of the west. We would have been more likely to see discussions on the Right not to be discriminated against on the basis of your race or religion, discussions which are still going on. Human morals and values change. If populations wish to express their updated values through a democratic referendum what is wrong with that? Wouldn’t you rather know where your fellow humans stand, and have a forum to express your point of view than be told what the “absolute and universal” position is?

    Plus, yay on the double rainbow over Dublin!

  3. kat: take a deep breath, and read my comments again…and REALLY read them this time, perhaps with a dictionary at your elbow.
    Stephen said that human rights should never be voted on, and I agreed with him, for the very good reason, which I will repeat here, that if they can be voted in, they can be voted out. Which part of the definition of human rights as being absolute and universal and not subject to the whim of the majority and cultural mores, did you not get?

  4. Human: adj. of, belonging to, or characteristic of people or humankind; of or belonging to the genus Homo sapiens.

    Rights: (there are many definitions, but I presume we’re discussing -) a thing one may legally or morally claim; the state of being entitled to a privilege or immunity or authority to act.

    Absolute: adj. 1 complete, utter, perfect 2 unconditional, unlimited 3 despotic; ruling arbitrarily or with unrestricted power 4 universally valid; not admitting exceptions; not relative or comparative.

    Universal: adj. of, belonging to, or done etc. by all persons or things in the world or in the class concerned; applicable to all cases.

    Barb, in case you missed it, the story is about legal access to the privilege of marriage being extended to a subset of humans who were previously (unfairly) excluded. So we are talking about access to human rights changing. If they were absolute they would never change. Perhaps I could lend you my dictionary?

    Just as an aside, I dislike the term human rights. I would rather we used the term human responsibilities, so as to be mindful that nothing is guaranteed, and everything takes effort.

    So if that legal access to privileges can change I would like to be aware of what my fellow humans think it should be, what the current tone of our collective morality is. I am very glad when I see it respectful and inclusive. But I don’t expect to see respect and inclusion when it is forced on an unwilling populace by unpopular laws. While it is true that these “rights” might be removed by a vote according to this precedent I would consider it less likely than the removal of the same rights by a central authority. So my question still stands, but let me rephrase since you missed (or evaded) it in my first post: where do you think human rights come from, if not the general populace expressed in a democratic form? Because it sure sounds like you’re advocating for tyranny to me.

    Also, just because you agree with Stephen doesn’t make him right.

  5. i didn’t miss the point, but you certainly did, and continue to do so.

    Take a look at your definitions above. In my first comment, I used “absolute” in the sense of definitions 1, 2, and 4; and I used “universal” as quoted. I applied those definitions to human rights, which I would define as freedoms (not privileges; that’s a loaded word nowadays) accessible to all human beings, just because they are human beings. So, where’s the argument?

    Human and civil rights often coincide, as for example in the US in the 1960s, where longstanding legal and informal restrictions on people of colour violated their rights to freedom of speech, expression, assembly, movement, etc., and this in a constitutional democracy. The federal government of the day gradually came to realize that these restrictions had to be removed by the imposition of federal law, and that’s what happened. The Civil Right Act(s) were massively unpopular, and were seen by many as a violation of states’ rights and individual rights; i.e. tyranny. Was passing that legislation the wrong thing to do, because it didn’t emerge from a majority of the population, and because a strong proportion of that population were and remained unwilling? I don’t think so; I think it was justice. The Democrats made enemies, including within their own party, but what they did was courageous and morally sound.

    As to Ireland, as I understand it, the constitution had to be amended, which required, by Irish law, that a referendum be held. The Yes vote means a green light to the government to draft an amendment, as well as legislation and regulations to make it workable. It’s a very good formula for political parties, because they can avoid making enemies; they’re simply doing what the majority tells them to do. Now, think how that might work in this country, should a hypothetical referendum on the return of the death penalty be held. The will of the majority can be good, but it can also be bad.

    Where do human rights come from? I would say from the recognition that we are all human beings, far more alike than different, and that we all require the same things to live and to live well and in harmony with our fellows. That has been very much a minority view throughout recorded human history, which is replete with descriptions of horrors or just plain injustices perpetrated by majorities.

    I interpreted Stephen’s remark as implicitly recognizing that human rights should not depend on the will of a majority, because they could as easily be lost by the will of a majority. He’s glad about the outcome in this particular case, but I think he recognizes that it might have gone the other way, and where would human rights stand then?

  6. Barb, check out the definition of rights. If you want to say freedoms say freedoms. Meanwhile I’ll be over here participating in civil society.

  7. Look, you can’t tell me in one post to check your terms in a dictionary, and in the next “choose to define” a word the way you want because you don’t agree with the OED. Human rights are a legal or moral claim to a privilege or immunity or authority to act for members of the genus Homo sapiens. Those legal and moral claims change like we humans do, and democratic referendums are our current best choice to express those changes. I can’t help that you don’t like or agree with the majority of humans, but I want to know what those humans consider legally and morally right. If I disagree with them, I tell them. When I am presented with overwhelming evidence that I am wrong, I reconsider my stance. I suggest you do the same, and take the time to consider what I have actually said beyond “I disagree with you.”

  8. So, you don’t consider freedom of expression to be a human right, and an unchangeable one at that? How does that square with the definition you just posted? i think that you are both angry and confused, and that is hampering your ability to make a case. You have simply not been reading my comments with care.

  9. Freedom of expression is a current human right and one which I gleefully claim authority to act on. But it is hardly unchangeable. In this very city, 150 years ago, I would not have had the legal right to act on my personal desire to dispute those who refuse to think and structure their arguments logically, because I have a vagina. We changed those prevailing morals, and I am optimistic that our morals (and our legal structures) are finally coming around to the view that all humans should have the same fundamental access to opportunity. We still have things to work on (sexism, racism, religious intolerances and class structures) but I am hopeful that we will change them. Dialogue is an excellent medium for change, but it can be frustrating when one tries to speak with a fundamentalist. Still, there is little chance that I will ever shut up, and there’s always the possibility that my words might plant a seed that could blossom into a thought. I will continue to try.

  10. If you are attempting to call me a fundamentalist, you are simply confirming that you have not read my comments, either with attention or at all. You are trying to set up a straw person, and failing miserably.

    You really need to read more history. In re: the concept of human rights, try works on the Enlightenment.

  11. Well, the tone of this debate is certainly delightful.

    Kat, “human rights” as a concept means more than is strictly implied by the dictionary definitions of the words “humans” and “rights”. I’ll quote wikipedia here because it expresses it more succintly than I would:

    “[Human rights] are commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights ‘to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being,’ and which are ‘inherent in all human beings’ regardless of their nation, location, language, religion, ethnic origin or any other status.”

    By invoking the term human rights, Stephen and Barb are saying that they believe that there are certain freedoms (and maybe entitlements) which all people deserve regardless of whether they are currently protected or granted. Indeed, under the commonly understood conception of humans rights the phrase “current human right” is a contradiction in terms.

    Now, we could get into a debate about where these rights come from. Barb seems to favour a natural law justification, others may go for a social contract approach. Personally, I merely consider human rights to be a very useful heuristic. That debate would be a digression, however, from the real topic at hand: how should rights be protected?

    Given that both Stephen and Barb have agreed on the statement “human rights should not be voted on”, I’d be interested in their opinions on the matter. I’ll probably add mine after work.

  12. Hi, Brad; long time no see!

    I’d agree that my approach is natural law; I can’t speak for Stephen, but I saw him as implying that that too is his view. (He can hop in any time.)

    A religious person might take the view that human rights were given by God (check the preamble to the American constitution, written by, among others, Deists very much influenced by Enlightenment thought), but it’s a quick and easy move away from religious grounds to a secular and rational recognition of common humanity and therefore common rights.

    The recognition and protection of human rights has an interesting and complicated history, chequered as it is by acts of political expediency, many of which degraded the idea that these rights apply always and everywhere, and are inalienable. Rather than break into a litany of examples right away, I’d like to see what Stephen and Brad think.

  13. The idea that right protection is too important to be left to standard governance goes back at least as far as the Magna Carta. The introduction of modern democracy did not render this idea obsolete; As Ben Franklin is incorrectly claimed to have said, “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.”

    I think Canada has this mostly correct: fundamental human rights (and especially minority rights) should be codified in a strongly entrenched constitution. Any decent constitution should have an Equality Rights section and it should be broadly interpreted by the courts.

    In my opinion, same-sex marriage isn’t a fundamental right. It’s a derived right based on the fundamental right to equal treatment under the law and the existence of marriage as a civil institution. The fact that a constitutional change was seen as necessary to legalize same-sex marriage indicates that Ireland did not have adequate protections for equality rights in their constitution. The fix for that should not have been inserting specific protection for marriage equality into the constitution, but inserting better general protections for equality rights.

    This whole process has revealed another problem with Ireland’s constitution that goes hand-in-hand with Barb’s statement that “…they could be voted away just as easily…”: Ireland’s constitution is not sufficiently entrenched. Constitutions should be fucking hard to change. In Canada, it typically requires the same resolution to be passed in the House, the Senate, and seven provinces. The US has it even better: they typically require a supermajority in both the House and Senate, plus three quarters of the states. In my opinion, the Irish process of both Houses plus a referendum and presidential assent is too weak; Minority rights can easily be taken away by a simple majority of voters.

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