Let me tell you about some friends of mine. Mary is in her 70’s she lives in a rural Irish town and is what I’d call an old style Catholic, not a dogmatic ‘holy Mary’ type but a sincere spiritual christian, she’s a regular mass goer who helps decorated and clean the local parish church and is an active member of the local community at every level. I often had occasion to visit her home for her son Michael is a friend of mine. Always made feel welcome and often as not fed there, on occasion alongside a stranger she found on the road and invited for tea. It’s been said often of Mary she’d give you her last shilling rather than see you stuck.
Her youngest son Michael is gay. Michael came out to his mammy many years ago and her love for him, her favorite son, helped her through it. She faced that alone, for her husband died in an accident years previously and she raised her children alone. It was in an Ireland where it was still a criminal offence to be actively gay. Today all the family know and all are supportive of their brother, but Mary will freely admit how hard it was for her at the time and how her simple life philosphy of the idea of Christ’s call for us to love one another had ultimately seen her through. Michael only came out to me in my thirties, I was a bit embarrassed frankly because like so many others of my generation who had been schooled here I was as a teenager a homophobic little idiot, and had to make that long march from there to acceptance and ultimately support for gay rights. How many times I shared spiteful little jokes about “homos”, “arse bandits”’ and “queers” with him as a young fella I don’t know, but enough to make me feel a bit embarrassed even now. Part of that journey was helped by the dynamic and courageous gay comrades I have know through my political activity and partly by the open way in which gay activists confronted, coaxed and cajoled us less enlightened folk along. Michael is generous in forgiving me for all that hurt I caused him all those years he was in the closet, for that I am grateful.
Whilst Michael is out to friends and family, is openly gay in the city where he works and in a stable loving relationship, in his home town no one really knows. Mary can deal with it all but the barriers against acceptance in her own place still scare her. She loves Michael and she does love his partner Stephen, in fact they get on like a house on fire, sharing a love for movies that would make many of you cringe and a great passion for gardening and god forbid royal gossip. Stephen when I’ve met him makes a point of talking about royal births, marriages etc just to wind me up, in truth you can’t but like the guy he has fiendish sense of humour. Michael has a daughter Eibhlin, Mary’s only grand daughter, and the light of her life. Eiblin is a dynamic and inspiring child, she would be the pride and joy of any parent. To see the whole gang together would soften the hardest heart. Stephen and Michael plan to marry after the referendum all things going well. Mary has told me that if the referendum is passed she wants them to marry in the town. She feels that the referendum will be the boost she needs to finally acknowledge to her friends and neighbours and the parish priest her sons sexuality and his relationship with Stephen.
I’m voting yes in the referendum, sure for all the ideological reasons but most of all for Mary and her courage to accept and change , for her love of her son , for Eiblin and her wonderful parents Michael and Stephen and for the people of that village so that one of their own can come and celebrate his love with them in a way all people should be allowed to.