The College Board has removed all mention of advocating a yes vote in the marriage equality referendum from a statement prepared on the topic by the College Equality Committee. The committee had proposed to actively support a yes vote.
The committee’s position on marriage equality was the sole item on the agenda for its meeting on February 18th. Members agreed that it was appropriate for the committee to adopt a “strong, affirmative stance in support of equal marriage rights for all, regardless of their sexuality or the gender of their partner”.
However, the statement issued to Board as part of the minutes of the meeting was edited to reflect the College’s established neutral position. Two paragraphs were removed in their entirety, along with three separate references to advocating for a yes vote.
Board had previously decided not to adopt a corporate position on the subject, citing the principles of “academic freedom and the promotion of debate”. Noting this, the committee nonetheless resolved to seek approval to contribute to the ongoing debate in a number of specific ways.
The Board approves the minutes of its sub-committees as a matter of procedure, so there is no suggestion that its intervention in this matter is inappropriate.
Suggestions for the committee’s participation included issuing a public statement, allowing pro-yes vote groups to acknowledge the Equality Committee’s endorsement of this stance; encouraging eligible members of the College Community to ensure they are registered to vote and to exercise their right to do so, and organising an event to publicise the referendum and call for a yes vote.
The committee’s statement asserts in its introduction that supporting a yes vote is a natural extension of its “duty to uphold the principles of equality and human rights”. While the Board did not amend or delete this section, thereby endorsing it, the Committee is not permitted to act upon the principle.
The edited statement announces that the Equality Committee “will actively support any initiatives within College aimed at raising awareness of the referendum” and “support … ongoing efforts to ensure that Trinity College is a recognised polling station for the referendum”.
A College spokesperson, Caoimhe Ní Lochlainn, stressed to The University Times the need to “be respectful of the full range of views of the College community by not adopting a particular stance on the issue”.
She continued: “It was also noted [at the meeting of Board] that it had been agreed that the College would encourage and facilitate debate so that staff and students may make an informed decision at the time of referendum.”
Furthermore, the College refused to espouse a corporate opinion on the Seanad abolition referendum in October 2013, preferring to organise a number of public forums aimed at informing staff and students.
Despite this, Damien McClean, LGBT Rights Officer for Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) expressed his disappointment at the College’s decision.
“Trinity, both the university and community, prides itself on its environment based on equality and acceptance and [the decision] seems to go against this; as though the university does not see civil marriage equality as an equality issue. Marriage is more than an equality issue, it is a basic human right.”
He went on: “Trinity, as a leading institution of education in Ireland, has an opportunity to educate people, or to promote education on this very important issue. It is not the university’s responsibility to secure marriage equality, but I do feel they have a responsibility to support it.”
The marriage equality referendum will take place on Friday 22nd May.