Veteran sociologist on the absurdity of redefining marriage in the Irish Constitution

Trinity College Dublin


By Anthony Coughlan

Since history began the institution of marriage between men and women has existed in all societies to ensure that the next generation, children, are brought up wherever practicable by the mothers and fathers who are responsible for conceiving them, until those children reach adulthood.

This is ABC in any sociology textbook. Male-female marriage is the basis of the natural links between the generations. It antedates the great religions. No society anywhere, apart from a few in recent years in Latin America and Europe, has regarded marriage as covering homosexuals, because lesbian and gay couples cannot conceive or produce children.

What we are being asked to do on Friday is to amend Article 41 of the Constitution to change marriage and the family from the male-female-based institution that it has always been understood to be in Ireland’s Constitution and laws, into something profoundly different.


If people vote Yes it means that henceforth in Ireland families based on so-called “marriage” between two males or two females – who are incapable as couples of producing children – will be included among families that are stated in our Constitution as being  “the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society . . . a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights antecedent and superior to all positive law. . . the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State.”

That is a ludicrous proposition, as UCC Professor John A. Murphy has pointed out in the Irish Times.

If we agree to write such an absurdity into the Irish Constitution, it will surely make this country and those in our political class who are responsible for it, into an international laughing stock … And deservedly so.

There are some 198 States in the world. Fewer than one-tenth of them, 17 I understand, have introduced same-sex marriage – all of them by Parliamentary vote or Court order.

Writing same-sex marriage into one’s State Constitution however is permanent, irreversible and likely to have many unforeseen, unintended and unwanted consequences. No other country has done that.

A MUCH MORE EFFECTIVE WAY OF DOING JUSTICE to the 1-2% of the population who are permanently homosexual without transforming the nature of marriage for the 98-99% who are not, would be to give recognition in the Constitution to civil partnerships, which is not the case at present.

Such an obvious way of being fair to our homosexual fellow-citizens does not seem to have been considered by the Government in its rush to push through homosexual “marriage” without any teasing out of its likely complex consequences in a Green Paper or White Paper beforehand.

If Irish voters transform the nature of marriage in the Constitution by voting Yes on Friday they will be endowing gay and lesbian couples with exactly the same constitutional rights to “procreate”, to “found” a family and to have children as opposite-sex couples have.

How can two men “found” a family?

Gay and lesbian couples can only exercise their new constitutional right to “procreate as a family” by the use of eggs or sperm donated by others and the use of surrogate mothers who are willing to “rent out” their wombs to others for nine months at a time.

That is why surrogacy is a relevant issue. It is not an invention, as Yes-side people assert.

Surrogacy means more children being brought up without links to their genetic mothers. It means more exploitation of poor women in poor countries for the benefit of rich people.

Surrogacy is unregulated in Ireland now, but if we change the Constitution homosexual couples will be able to claim it in the Courts as essential to the exercise of their new constitutional rights to procreate and to found families as couples – on the ground of “equality”.

This is presumably the reason why the Government wants to get voters to change the Constitution first, and thereby clear a constitutional path to facilitating surrogacy for LGBT couples by ordinary statute law later.


One of the many unconsidered consequences of voting to change the Constitution is that it would alter the legal-political effect of the first Lisbon Treaty Protocol, which the Government used to persuade Irish people to ratify the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, after they had rejected it in 2008.

The Lisbon Treaty, which establishes the EU Constitution, gives the EU the power to lay down human rights standards as a matter of supranational law across its 28 Member States. Article 9 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights allows for same-sex marriage and the right “to found a family” on that basis.

As it stands, Ireland’s Lisbon Treaty Protocol is an insurmountable legal barrier to supranational EU law on marriage, the family and education across the EU. If we remove that barrier by changing the Constitution ourselves, we clear the way for EU law on same-sex marriage in all EU countries by decision of the EU Court of Justice in due time.

Ireland would thus become a bridgehead in the EU for the powerful pharmaceutical companies that make up the donor-assisted human reproduction industry and the accompanying lucrative surrogacy business in America and Europe.

Can American money buy an Irish referendum? That is the question put in an Irish Times article (and further afield) last week under that title.

In it we were informed how key elements of the Yes campaign – Marriage Equality, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network(GLEN), and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, have received some $17 million in recent years from the American foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies, to help transform the position of marriage in the Irish Constitution.

The taxpayer-funded Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission(IHREC), the State’s official human rights body, wrongly advised the Government, the political parties and the general public that there is a right to same-sex marriage under the European Convention on Human Rights, even though the Court which interprets the Convention has laid down in the Hamalainen v.Finland case that there is no such right.

It turns out that the IHREC too got €2 million from Atlantic Philanthropies.

It has been calculated from Atlantic’s own web-site that this single American foundation invested €735 million in Irish projects in the past 13 years, of which €25 million has been devoted to agencies promoting change in the area of LBGT interests.

It is clear from its web-site also that the Board of this US-based body has had intimate relations with the Government and has determinedly exerted that influence in recent years to change Irish social policy  and the Irish Constitution as regards same-sex marriage. The money it provided has been responsible for the systematic lobbying of politicians of all parties on this matter.

We were also told last week that the withdrawal of Government funding of pre-marriage courses by the Catholic charity Accord, is mere coincidence. Then the next day we learned that the Government agency Tusla, which finances Accord, has just received €8 million from the same Atlantic Philanthropies. The coincidences get more curious.

Whether they are aware of it or not, it looks very much as if the key bodies on the Yes-side mentioned have become outriders for US-based Big Pharma, the American social media companies that are cheerleaders for this issue, and the accompanying gender-neutral ideology which seeks to legitimate same-sex marriage across Europe.

If voters change the Constitution on Friday the Irish State will become an ideological flag-bearer in the EU for the powerful economic interests involved in the donor-assisted human reproduction industry and the lucrative international surrogacy business that is its complement.

Worth mentioning in conclusion is that if people vote Yes it will become constitutionally impossible for future Irish public policy to support or favour male-female couples and their children in any way over the “families” of homosexuals.

That is what constitutional and legal “equality” will have to mean.

The new constitutional position of marriage and the family will then have to be taught in our schools, at least in civics classes.

THIS IN TURN IS LIKELY TO CAUSE FAR MORE PAINFUL CONFUSION REGARDING SEXUAL IDENTITY and orientation among vulnerable adolescent young people in the future than is the case at present or has been in the past.

Voters feel that they are being pressurized into voting Yes in order to do the decent thing by homosexuals.

They are told they should feel guilty by not voting for “equality” when the Constitution provides that all citizens are already equal before the law.

They are being deceived and misled by many people who should know better.

IRISH VOTERS SHOULD HAVE THE COURAGE OF FREE CITIZENS, THOUGHTFUL LIBERALS AND TRUE REPUBLICANS and give the nonsense that is currently being thrown at them from all sides a firm “No”.

The State can then take the creative social policy initiative of putting civil partnership into the Irish Constitution, setting a good international example in doing that.

That would give affectional shared-domicile relations between same-sex couples, whether homosexual, platonic friends or siblings who desire such, full constitutional recognition, while leaving marriage and the marriage-based family as it has always been.

But for that to happen voters must say No to same-sex “marriage” first.


My views on marriage are not religiously based, but are grounded rather in the ABCs of sociology and anthropology. I do not belong to any of the No-side groups on this matter.

I have however taught social policy at TCD for over 30 years, and dealt a lot with family law and public policy on family issues over that time.

I have nothing personal to gain by giving my views on this issue.

I do so only because as a social science professional I believe that Irish voters will be making a mistake which many will come to regret if they vote on Friday to transform fundamentally the character of marriage and the family based on marriage in their State Constitution. No other country has done this.

Irish social policy can easily do justice to the interests of LGBT people by building upon Civil Partnership and putting that into the Constitution in some future referendum, without transforming the nature of marriage for everyone else in this one.

I set out my reasons for holding this view in the article above.

With reference to the point in the article about American money being used to buy an Irish referendum, I understand that Mr Chuck Feeney, who did outstanding work for the Irish Peace Process in the 1990s, has had no say for years in the funding decisions of the Board of the Atlantic Philanthropies foundation.

(John) Anthony Coughlan is Associate Professor Emeritus in the School of Social Work and Social Policy in Trinity College Dublin.

One thought on “Veteran sociologist on the absurdity of redefining marriage in the Irish Constitution

  1. Interesting post anthony ,this ssm ref is more about political point scoring for kenny then anything else ,
    Its a shambles as to why the public were not informed on the constitutional down falls of voting yes ,but hey its fine gaels bananna republic so paddy does’nt need to know .

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