In the run-up to Ireland’s Marriage Equality referendum on May 22nd, I’ve invited a series of guest posters– people from Ireland or who live here, of many different backgrounds and orientations- to share their thoughts on the referendum, the campaign, and what it means to them. Contributions to Guest Posts for Equality are welcome- drop me a message.
This guest poster- for reasons that I’m sure will be obvious when you read the post- prefers to remain anonymous.
One of the most heart-warming things to come out of the marriage referendum in Ireland has been the videos of everyday Irish people talking to their families about why they’re voting yes. Students from Trinity College did one of the first with their “Call Your Granny” video showing them phoning their parents and grandparents to see if they would vote yes, their nerves palpable as they wait to hear the answer and then the wonderful relief, “Of course I’m voting yes!.” Since then there have been so many videos of families sitting around the kitchen table with typical Irish mammies and daddies talking about how their LGBTQ sons and daughters are loved equally and how they want them to be just as happy as their other children. I cry at every video.
I’ve also gone out canvassing with my local Yes Equality group and been quietly tearful while canvassing alongside a father who marches up to every door with a proud smile on his face and asks everyone who he meets to vote for his son.
These testimonies from parents and grandparents are all the more moving to me because I know that I can’t make a video like that with my parents. They are most definitely not voting yes on May the 22nd, in fact they are actively supporting a no vote. When I post anything on Facebook remotely favouring the Yes campaign there is an icy social media silence from them, usually followed by a posting of their own from one of the vicious and nasty No campaign articles in the media. I have tried to #haveonechat with them and then heard exactly what they think of gay people getting married. Those chats are not the cosy stuff of the videos that are going out on social media everyday.
I’ve read many passionate tweets and posts from people with thoughts along the lines of “If you’re voting no, just go ahead and unfriend me now” or “I don’t think I can be friends with anyone who is voting no”. Which I know is born of passion for a Yes vote and frustration at the lies and vitriol from the No side of the fence, but still, how do I reconcile my lovely parents who raised me and gave me the most amazing childhood with this bitterness that comes over them whenever the subject of homosexuality comes up?
The thing is… I know where it’s coming from. It’s not so long ago that I escaped that mindset myself. My family has been a part of an evangelical Christian group since I was a baby. I grew up going to Sunday school, bible classes and youth fellowships. I was proselytising my friends before I was ten. I believed with all my heart that the Bible was the literal word of a deity and that book is pretty clear in what it has to say about homosexuality. To my utter shame, as a youth leader, I taught that it was a sin to be gay, that gay people should remain celibate, the phrase “hate the sin, love the sinner” has passed my lips. I am so sorry that I did that.
It never sat well with me to teach it though, it’s some small comfort to say that I had become far more liberal in my views for some years before finally shedding my religious beliefs altogether. Still, I remember what we were taught…that there was a “Gay Agenda” that homosexuals were promiscuous and dangerous, that they were given to depression because deep down they know what they are doing is wrong. Condemning those horrible beliefs now is a big part of why I am now active in the Yes campaign.
When I listen to the No side as they put their legal arguments forward or they try to explain how they love gay people but this is actually about children, I know that they are not telling the truth. Their real reasons are tied to religion, the same religion that has skewed my parent’s minds and that I was a part of for so long too. The No campaigners can’t say these things though (well, the more “respectable” ones can’t anyway), I think it’s because they know that to say them out loud would be death to their campaign.
In the case of my own parents, I’m still hopeful, although it’s probably too late now. I know the dissonance of believing in what is supposed to be a loving God and being on what is supposed to be the loving side, and yet having to believe that this same God calls homosexuals an abomination worthy of death when you would never say that yourself. I want to think that is what is causing this anger and this talk of being bullied or victimised.
In the last chat I had with my Dad about the referendum we had a moment of honesty. After he had ranted about the consequences of changing the constitution and redefining marriage, I asked him if the Bible didn’t mention homosexuality, if those verses didn’t exist, would he still have a problem with it, he admitted he wouldn’t. I then asked him could he think of any reason why homosexuality was wrong apart from those verses, he said he couldn’t, but if God said it then my Dad had to go along with that whether he understood it or not. I asked him what he would say to a homosexual person, his answer, “I don’t know.”
This referendum is not about me, I’m straight, middle-class and white and I’ve never had to face the kind of hatred and bigotry that the LGBTQ community has faced for so many years. I shouldn’t even have a say let alone a vote as to whether they should be “allowed” to marry and take part in our society as equals. Yet I am glad that there has been this national conversation, that we are having these discussions with our families, even the ones that you can’t make a happy video about. My parents may not change their minds by next Friday in time to vote yes, and it will be horrible for them if they realise down the line that they were wrong, but it has allowed us to talk about it, for me to challenge them and most importantly for them to feel that dissonance of thinking they ought to be on the loving side but feeling the opposite and looking around at who is on their team and not liking what they see.