Marriage Equality in Northern Ireland

Editorial:  The vote has been a resounding YES for marriage equality in the Republic of Ireland, and the calls are not out for our politicians in Northern Ireland to react positively to this result.  Only time will tell whether our politicians will do so, will they take the lead or will they be left behind?

A couple embraces after the Referendum result

A couple embraces after the Referendum result

I am going to provide links to interesting articles from he local and national papers which all hold similar points of view:

  1. The Independent – Ireland gay marriage: Northern Ireland must now follow lead of historic vote, say politicians
  2. TGS – Peter Tatchell: “Northern Ireland is the most homophobic place in Western Europe”
  3. Belfast Live – Major rally planned for Belfast will call for gay marriage to be legalised in Northern Ireland
  4. The Irish Times – Same-sex marriage: gay couples react to Yes vote
  5. The Independent – Ireland gay marriage: What Ireland looked like when it voted yes
  6. News Letter – Same-sex marriage is coming to Northern Ireland
  7. Belfast Telegraph – UN boss praises Ireland on gay vote


Ballot boxes are emptied in Dublin for counting of votes in the referendum on same-sex marriage.The support for the proposal south of the border will come north of the border too. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Ballot boxes are emptied in Dublin for counting of votes in the referendum on same-sex marriage.The support for the proposal south of the border will come north of the border too. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire


What do you think should happen?  The Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association supports the rights of all people to be equal, and ask therefore that our politicians now engage with the people and put forward a equality marriage bill!

‘Sextarianism’ is drawing new battle lines in Northern Ireland

The Conversation 22 May 2015, 1.09pm BST


Livid. EPA/Paul McErlane

If you grew up in Northern Ireland during the 1970s and 1980s, sectarianism pervaded every aspect of your everyday life. In fact, such is the pervasiveness of sectarianism that it’s almost been normalised. These days, it’s sometimes not even recognised or regarded as a problem.

In simple terms, sectarianism is the dislike, hatred, and distrust of another religious faction, a bundle of ideas, beliefs and practices including verbal and physical intimidation and violence as well as political, economic and institutional discrimination.

The intent is to reinforce social stereotypes, perpetuate cultural differences and, ultimately to uphold the political and economic inequality between Northern Ireland’s Protestants and Catholics. Put another way, it’s all about securing and exercising political, economic, social and cultural power.

Simmering down?

In symbolic terms, the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and the Belfast Agreement marked the beginning of the end of sectarian violence by mainstream republican and loyalist paramilitaries.

And while sectarianism still looms large in Northern Ireland, statistics from the Police Service of Northern Ireland show an overall downward trend in sectarian incidents and crimes. Meanwhile, recent research by Paula Devine shows that the majority of both Catholics (71%) and Protestants (70%) would prefer to live in a mixed-religion neighbourhood.

Although there is still a long way to go in terms of eradicating sectarianism, these statistics offer a sign of optimism and improvement. But sectarianism’s sideways move on the political agenda has only made space for other social issues in the same hateful part of the spectrum.

Two issues in particular have caught the attention of NI Assembly members and local councillors, especially those from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), in recent years. On the one hand, sexual citizenship – gay rights, abortion and reproductive rights – and on the other, sexual commerce: the sale and consumption of adult goods and sexual services.

The attitudes of individual politicians and political parties, and, more importantly, the policy responses to issues of sexual citizenship and sexual commerce have taken on a deeply conservative and fervently activist bent. Northern Ireland has become a hotbed for what we might term “sextarianism” – a politicised dislike of those whose sexual identities, beliefs and practices are non-heteronormative, “deviant”, or commercialised.

Minorities targeted

Sextarianism revolves around religious and patriarchal ideas, beliefs, practices and policies that stigmatise, physically harm, and criminalise members of sexual minority groups, and deny them their human and labour rights.

Whereas civil and political sectarianism is about various religious and nationalist/republican and unionist/loyalist factions fighting one another, sextarianism sees civil society and politicians from both sides of the old sectarian divide coming together to fight common “enemies”.

An indication of the extent and scale of violent sextarianism can be gleaned from data on “hate motivated” incidents and crimes: year-on-year, the number of recorded homophobic incidents increased by 20% in 2013/14.

And in terms of political sextarianism, there has been considerable controversy, about a local bakery refusing to make a gay-themed cake for an LGBTQ customer. The case over the bakery’s refusal ended up in the High Court.

And while the bakery ultimately lost, related battles are being fought on other fronts.

War of words

Political sextarianism has seen Northern Ireland consumed by a range of sexual rights issues, among them gay adoption, gay marriage and gay blood donation. On these issues, there has been particularly strong opposition from the DUP.

The nationalist political parties, SDLP and Sinn Fein, have expressed some measure of support for gay marriage – but in the recent NI Assembly vote on it, a number of SDLP members “missed” the vote, and as such, the motion failed.

The undercurrent of hostility that greets gay rights periodically comes to the surface. Recent homophobic comments by the then minister for health Jim Wells, who claimed that children were more likely to be abused within same-sex households, resulted in him stepping down.

Sex shops are another bone of contention. Belfast City Council recently ruled that the number of sex shops in the Gresham Street area, where one of the first two sex shops in Northern Ireland opened in the early 1980s, should be zero. The argument was that “the presence of such premises would have an adverse impact upon the current and envisaged character of the area.” This resolution was moved by Tim Attwood, a councillor from the SDLP, a nationalist political party, but seconded by Alderman Guy Spence from the DUP.

Protests by religious groups, mainly the Free Presbyterian Church, were a common feature outside Belfast’s one and only lap dance club, the Movie Star Café, back in the early 2000s. This adult entertainment venue was also vehemently opposed by Belfast City Council, which sought to refuse a renewal of the club’s licence. The lap dance club closed within about a year of opening. There have been no clubs since.

More recently, Marie Stopes, which opened its first abortion advice centre and clinic in Belfast in late 2012, has been the subject of regular protests from both Protestant and Catholic religious groups as well as some women’s groups. The founder of one of the most vociferous pro-life organisations, Bernadette Smyth from Precious Life, was issued with a five-year banfrom approaching the Marie Stopes offices after being found guilty of harassing its recently departed director, Dawn Purvis.

Come together

But one of the starkest incidents of political sextarianism was the saga of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill by the NI Assembly in late October 2014.

The Bill, due to become law on June 1 2015, will introduce a version of the so-called “Nordic Model”, which criminalises the purchase of sexual services but not the sale of them. It was supported by 81 out of 91 NI Assembly members, spanning the ethno-sectarian divide.

As part of its “research” on different ways to regulate sex work, the NI Justice Committee visited Finland and Sweden to examine their much-ballyhooed models close up. This fact-finding fly-by does not represent a considered inquiry; it was clear at the committee’s hearings that many members had made up their minds in favour of the so-called Nordic model before all the evidence had been tendered.

If the committee were sincere in gathering as much evidence as possible about how best to regulate sex work and ensure the safety and well-being of sex workers, it would have bothered to look beyond the Nordic countries, and would have engaged properly with sex workers and sex worker organisations in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, and the rest of the UK.

The suspicion and harsh questioning that greeted the one and only current sex worker, sex work support organisations and academics researching sex work showed that there was little if any interest in being genuinely analytical of the Nordic model. Conversely, the Catholic and women’s organisations from the Republic of Ireland who gave oral evidence were welcomed with open arms, strange given Unionist politicians’ longstanding distrust of all things Irish.

This shows the sheer power of sextarianism. This sort of political alliance between Protestants and Catholics would have been virtually unimaginable about ten years ago. But since both Catholic and Protestant politicians have both long laid claim to the moral high ground on sex and sexuality, the human trafficking bill created the perfect conditions for a sextarian marriage of convenience – another sign of how nothing heals old wounds like a new enemy.

Northern Ireland is now the odd one out on same-sex marriage


Following the victory of same-sex marriage in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland has grown increasingly isolated on the issue.

The Republic of Ireland yesterday held a referendum on a proposal to introduce civil same-sex marriage.

Despite fears that a strong turnout among older, religious voters could sway the referendum against equality, it was announced today that the vote passed by 62.1% to 37.9%.

However, in Northern Ireland the Democratic Unionist Party government continues to block all LGBT rights legislation including same-sex marriage – with the measure rejected by Stormont for a fourth time last month despite popular support.

The DUP has dismissed calls to follow the Republic of Ireland in holding a referendum – but Northern Ireland is now very much isolated in Northern Europe on the issue.

In Europe, same-sex marriage is now legal in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden – as well as Scotland, England and Wales inside the United Kingdom.

The Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man are also still to introduce equality – but have a much smaller population than Northern Ireland’s 1.8 million.

Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness has previously called for a referendum in Northern Ireland following roadblocks in Stormont, saying: “What would be very interesting for me, would be to gauge whether or not on the issue of equality, in regard to the rights of people in LGBT community, the assembly actually is representative of people here in the north and I think it would be very interesting if we had a referendum.

“In fact I would advocate that we should have a referendum.

“This is a matter of whether or not we want to live in a modern progressive society that respects minorities, and as far as I’m concerned the LGBT community for far too long have been discriminated against and I believe that they are entitled to be treated as equals and treated with respect.”

Irish gay marriage referendum: Pressure to build on Northern Ireland's politicians to allow vote on gay marriage

Belfast Telegraph

Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Pressure is set to build on Northern Ireland’s politicians to allow a popular vote on gay marriage after the resounding victory in the Republic.

Sinn Fein said the equality rights for same-sex couples must be shared by citizens in the north and it will continue to campaign for the reform.

Caitriona Ruane, the party’s Stormont Assembly Member for South Down, said the referendum shows change is possible and inevitable when people fully engage in politics.

“The marriage equality rights that will be enjoyed by Irish citizens in the south must be shared by citizens in the north,” she said.

“Sinn Fein will continue to campaign for marriage equality for all in the North and to end the discrimination against our LGBTI community.”

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK which does not have gay marriage.

Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness welcomed the emerging success of the marriage equality vote.

Mr McGuinness said: “Today we can all rightfully be proud to be Irish and part of an increasingly tolerant, pluralist and outward-looking Ireland.

“Politicians, particularly in the north need to reflect on this progress.

“The world is moving on and Ireland is taking the lead. Pride in Ireland has taken on a whole new meaning.”

Unionists earlier this year rejected a proposal from Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to hold a referendum on the issue similar to Republic.

Sinn Fein also said the influx of emigrants returning home to vote in the day before polling yesterday highlights the need to tackle the issue of voting rights for the Irish diaspora and for Irish citizens in Northern Ireland.

“I’m delighted the people have voted overwhelmingly in favour of marriage equality for all,” she said.

“This referendum was all about equality, inclusion and respect for our LGBTI brothers and sisters.

“The campaign energised and engaged a whole new generation of young people in the democratic process.

“This result shows when people fully participate in the political process that change is not only possible but inevitable.”

Southern Rites: A Reminder of the Parallels of Prejudice

Editorial:  Yesterday a judge decided that a bakery had shown prejudice against a gay man by taking his order and payment for a cake, and then calling him back some days later to state that they couldn’t fulfil his order because it was against their Christian principles to promote ‘gay marriage equality’.  The gay man did not seek to have this action in the courts, at no time as has been stated, did he seek to ‘set-up’ the bakery (Loose Women/Janet Street-Porter).

It is obvious from the comments made by our politicians following the judgement, that they cannot separate church from state.  The links between church and state in the UK are, nowadays, mostly a formality and the governance of the UK is relatively secular, although the Lords Spiritual have a significant influence when they vote as a bloc on certain issues, notably abortion and euthanasia.

As Slugger O’Toole penned, “…When it comes to separating Church from State I believe that many of our Unionist politicians are out of step with the views of the majority of Unionist voters….”

The following article on prejudice in the Southern States of the USA, show how legislation and political statements don’t remove prejudice, only a concerted action by all involved with a recognition of everyone’s equal rights will enable a balanced, forwarding looking society.


republished from the The Advocate – BY TRUDY RING  –  MAY 18 2015 6:00 AM ET

A new documentary about racial tensions in rural Georgia reminds us what all types of bigotry have in common.

Sha'von Patterson holds a photo of himself and his older brother, Justin, as children. The new documentary Southern Rites addresses Justin's violent death and its consequences.

Sha’von Patterson holds a photo of himself and his older brother, Justin, as children. The new documentary Southern Rites addresses Justin’s violent death and its consequences.

Sha’von Patterson holds a photo of himself and his older brother, Justin, as children. The new documentary Southern Rites addresses Justin’s violent death and its consequences.

Over the past year, events in Baltimore, New York, and Ferguson, Mo., have provided ample evidence that America’s racial problems are far from solved. A new HBO documentary drives the point home as well — and its director is quick to note parallels between racism and anti-LGBT bigotry.

“It’s all about discrimination and civil rights — it’s all connected,” says Gillian Laub, whose directorial debut,Southern Rites, premieres tonight on the cable channel. And all prejudice, she notes, is about fear of the unknown.

Laub has spent most of her career as a photographer; one of her earlier projects was a multimedia piece called “Becoming Nikki,” about a 10-year-old transgender girl, commissioned by Peoplemagazine in 2013. Another project was documenting the racially segregated proms at Montgomery County High School in rural Georgia, and that’s what gave rise to Southern Rites.

Laub, who is based in New York City, had been photographing the separate proms for several years, and in 2009, The New York Times Magazine published her photo essay on the subject. National outrage led the school to finally have an integrated prom for all students. Laub continued to travel to Montgomery County; “I thought I was going back to kind of show the prom in transition,” she says. But she found far more than that, exposing continued racial tensions.

Norman Neesmith, a white resident of neighboring Toombs County, was arrested in January 2011 for shooting and killing Justin Patterson, a 22-year-old black man Laub had photographed at a prom years earlier. Neesmith’s 18-year-old great-niece, Danielle, whom he had raised after her mother abandoned her, and a friend of hers had invited Patterson and his brother Sha’von to the Neesmith home, apparently for sexual encounters. Neesmith was sleeping when the young men arrived, but he woke up, confronted them, and a fight ensued, ending in Justin’s death.

While Neesmith was facing trial in 2012, Calvin Burns, the well-respected police chief of Mount Vernon, the Montgomery County seat, was seeking election as county sheriff, hoping to become the first African-American to hold the post. Juxtaposing these two stories, Southern Rites explores the role of race in the region, making it clear that bigotry against black residents has not been erased.

It also makes clear that the situation is complicated; as much as Norman Neesmith may incite viewers to anger, it would be an oversimplification to say he’s a hopelessly racist villain. For one thing, Danielle, whom he says he loves deeply, is part African-American. “I think he’s a complicated and flawed human being, like most of us,” Laub says of Neesmith. “He’s very nuanced.”

Laub, a straight woman who is a passionate LGBT ally, notes that she’s met some Montgomery County residents who are facing homophobia along with racism. The prom king at one year’s black prom, she says, came out to her and asked what he should do with his life, as he felt there was no place for him as a black gay man in rural Georgia. But he’s still there and actually doing well, she says.

A recurring theme in her work, she says, is “trying to bring out people’s truth,” whether it’s the story of the “incredibly brave” transgender girl Nikki or race relations in the Deep South. Her next project will take her back to transgender issues; it’s a film about trans people in the military, who still face discharge if their status becomes known. Laub adds that she can’t provide any details just yet.

Meanwhile, as Southern Rites premieres, a companion photo and video exhibit has just opened at New York City’s Benrubi Gallery, where it runs through June 27. There is also a companion photo book, and Laub will give a lecture before a special screening of the film at Dartmouth College May 26.

Laub stresses that while the film, which has John Legend as an executive producer and features a song by him, deals with serious and pressing issues, it’s not all downbeat. For instance, several scenes show teens of all races having fun together and saying how ridiculous they found the idea of segregated proms. “I do want to note the progress there has been and that there is hope,” she says.

Southern Rites premieres tonight at 9 Eastern on HBO; check your local listings. For more information about the film, the exhibit, and related events, go to a trailer for the film below.

Asher's Gay Cake Judgement Reaction

Gareth Lee outside Laganside Court, Belfast

Gareth Lee outside Laganside Court after a judge found Ashers Baking Company guilty of discrimination

The following reactions were noted from the BBC News website following the judgement given by a judge on the ‘Gay Cake’ case:


First Minister Peter Robinson

“I’m not terribly surprised. In many ways, that’s why we were preparing a legislating alternative.

“I think the term ‘reasonable accommodation’ is now what we would like to frame some legislation around, recognising that there are rights on both sides.”


Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, on Twitter

“Ashers bakery judgement a good result for equality. Gay people have for far too long been discriminated against. We and the law on their side.”


David McIlveen DUP, on Twitter

“Utterly sickened that a Christian-owned business has been hauled over the coals for refusing to promote something that is not legal in Northern Ireland.”


SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood, on Twitter

“Today’s judgment is a welcome and refortifying of our hard-won equality laws.”


Sinn Féin MLA Catriona Ruane

“It is a good day for equality and a good day for everyone in our society.”


John O’Doherty, The Rainbow Project

“The judge clearly articulated that this is direct discrimination for which there can be no justification.”


The Green Party NI, on Twitter

“Let us now move forward to rebuild relationships with the LGBQT community.”


DUP MLA Paul Givan

“What we cannot have is a hierarchy of rights, and today there’s a clear hierarchy being established that gay rights are more important than the rights of people to hold religious beliefs.”


Jim Allister TUV

“It is a dark day for justice and religious freedom in Northern Ireland.”


Peter Lynas, director of Evangelical Alliance

“This judgment will cause great concern for all those in business. It turns out the customer is always right and businesses have no discretion in deciding which goods and services to produce. The law rightly protects people from discrimination, but it has now extended that protection to ideas.”



Editorial:  The judgement has been made and it recognises that the law had been broken.  We will now have to follow carefully to ensure that our politicians do not decide that they can change the law to suit their bias.  The Human Rights Act is one of the cornerstones of the Good Friday Agreement, but with Westminster talking about withdrawing from it, we could see Stormont deciding to then repeal all the rights that the LGBT community have gained in Northern Ireland.


Zoo Pride: The first of it's kind in the UK

Are you the next king of the jungle?

Bristol Zoo is excited to be working with Bristol Pride to proudly host an over-18s evening of fun-filled entertainment.

Bring your friends and colleagues along to join 2000 other people from the LGBT community and beyond to an event that is a first of its kind in the UK. Taking place on Saturday 1st August, revel in the wide range of entertainment as the Zoo transforms into a festival of fun.

The event’s entertainment includes a silent disco, fabulous face painting, live art performances by the enthralling Tom Marshman, comedy from the award-winning, all-female improv group the Short & Girlie Show, live music from Wildflowers who supported Robert Plant and The Sensational Space Shifters last summer and South Wales’ favourites Best Supporting Actors.

An area of the Zoo will also be dedicated to all things circus with a burlesque show, stilt walking, juggling, acrobatics and more by Circus Uncertainty.

As if this wasn’t enough, the Zoo’s animal houses will be open, guests can check out animal talks and feeds and a return Zoo ticket is included in the ticket price.

Guests won’t go hungry or thirsty with gourmet street food and both alcoholic and soft drinks being served around the grounds throughout the night.

The Zoo’s main lawn will be under-cover in a big tent so this is a unique event not-to-be-missed whatever the weather. Gates open from 6:30pm with the event finishing at 10:30pm.

But have no fear, for the real party animals Zoo Pride continues at a special night safari at the Queenshilling on Frogmore Street. Gaydio’s DJ Craig Law will have the night roaring with club classics, funky house and anthemic grooves – free entry to everyone with a Zoo Pride ticket.

For more information or to buy tickets, visit: Zoo Pride

The event is sponsored by Gloden tanning & beauty, which will be at the event offering temporary tanning treatments and more.

All guests must be 18+ (valid ID required)

Editorial:  One wonders if Belfast Zoo would be willing to undertake a similar event, or if they would even be allowed by our politicians?

The same-sex marriage referendum has transformed Ireland before it’s even begun

The Guardian – Sunday 17 May 2015 15.04 BST Last modified on Monday 18 May 2015 08.29 BST

Una Mullally

As a gay Irish woman, the campaign for equal rights has tested me to breaking point. But it has also been a time of wonderful solidarity

Rally in support of same-sex marriage in Dublin

‘For the yes campaign, the final week before the referendum on same-sex marriage is about galvanising support.’ Photograph: Robin English/Demotix/Corbis

Last week, Ursula Halligan, the well-known and much liked political editor of TV3, came out in the Irish Times. Halligan wrote that she had been resigned to going to her grave with the secret of being gay, until the referendum campaign for same-sex marriage in Ireland began.

If carried this Friday, Ireland will be the first country in the world to pass marriage rights for same-sex couples by popular vote. “For me, there was no first kiss; no engagement party; no wedding,” wrote Halligan. “And up until a short time ago no hope of any of these things. Now, at the age of 54, in a (hopefully) different Ireland, I wish I had broken out of my prison cell a long time ago.”

The yes campaign has largely been fought with personal stories. I recently wrote my Irish Times column about how I had stuttered while naming my girlfriend as next of kin in hospital, while being diagnosed with stage three cancer in March. For me, the referendum is the most important thing to happen in my lifetime in Ireland. A yes vote would mean being equal to my brother and my sisters, and finally accepted as such in Irish society. A no vote is almost too devastating to imagine.

The referendum has been divisive in debate, but unifying in people power
Ireland’s most respected columnist, Fintan O’Toole, has also drawn on his personal life to advocate a yes vote. Last week he wrote about the vasectomy he had 25 years ago, and how, given his marriage is no longer “open to life”, his union falls down on what the no campaign holds up as an ideal.

O’Toole cut to the heart of the no campaign’s problem. With posters saying “children deserve a mother and a father”, they have not just offended gay people, but also single parents, unmarried parents, people who were adopted, and so on. “In order to find an apparent principle on which it can reasonably deny equality to gay men and lesbians,” O’Toole wrote of the no campaign, “it has to tell huge numbers of other people that their relationships are just not up to scratch.”


For the yes campaign, this final week is about galvanising support. And the no campaign is also throwing everything they have at it. At masses around Ireland over the weekend, letters were read out from bishops arguing against a yes vote. The no campaign has fought personal stories with abstract arguments, and become increasingly hardened in its messaging. Its latest poster reads: “Two men can’t replace a mother’s love.”

The referendum has been divisive in debate, but unifying in people power. On Saturday, the yes camp saw crowds of people canvassing across the country. Fundraising concerts and club nights have pulled in thousands of euros. The yes campaign is buoyed by support from children’s charities and an almost endless stream of unexpected voices, including Irish football captain Robbie Keane and the epitome of genteel rural Ireland, singer Daniel O’Donnell.

But there is anxiety as well as optimism. “Look at what happened in England,” came a warning to canvassers, called down a driveway by a woman in the suburbs of Dublin last week. Where Britain had shy Tories, campaigners here wonder about shy no voters.

The latest newspaper polls show between 53% and 67% in support of a yes vote. The Irish Times poll showed the yes side at 58%, no at 25%, and undecideds at 17%. Excluding those undecideds, the yes side is at 70% and no at 30%. As comfortable as it might look, that call down the driveway echoes. Polling for referendums is notoriously unreliable here. Six months before Ireland held a referendum allowing for divorce in 1995, support for a yes vote was at nearly 72%. The referendum passed by 0.6%.

Everything rests on those who say they support the issue turning out to vote. For me and many other gay people, the campaign has tested us almost to breaking point. But it has also been a time of wonderful solidarity. Whatever the outcome, there has been a real and irrevocable change in Irish society.

Colm Tóibín: The same-sex marriage referendum and the embrace of love

The campaign has allowed us to set out how we wish to be treated

Colm Toibin: ‘We seek to embrace marriage and strengthen the idea of the family and our involvement in it. We seek to enhance the institution of marriage. We want to make the same vows as others do, for the same reasons.’ Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Colm Toibin: ‘We seek to embrace marriage and strengthen the idea of the family and our involvement in it. We seek to enhance the institution of marriage. We want to make the same vows as others do, for the same reasons.’ Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

In 1996, after I had published my novel The Story of the Night, which is in part an account of the love between two men, I received a private letter from one of the most powerful men in Ireland, someone who had served in government, and was then and later a figure of immense influence in public life. I had never met this man, and I was surprised by the tone of the letter that was personal but also engaged, almost urgent. He simply said that it had never occurred to him that two men could fall in love in the way straight people do, that a man could wait for phone calls and messages from the loved one who was also a man, or that the two men could begin to long for and enjoy each other’s company and thus become happy in the warm glow of love. He had thought being gay was merely about sex, that it was a merely sexual orientation, that its embrace did not include what the novelist Kate O’Brien called “the embrace of love”.

A few weeks later I met a prominent Irish feminist, someone had been at the forefront of the women’s movement, and she too expressed surprise at the intensity of the relationship between the two men in the book. “They sound like straight people,” she said. I told her that that was because they were like straight people, that they wanted intimacy and love, they wanted each other, they wanted ease in their domestic and family lives. They also wanted their relationship to be publicly recognised. They wanted to move out of the shadows and into the light.

I was concerned that these two educated, decent and liberal people could know so little about homosexuality. What I viewed as normal, they viewed as strange. What I viewed as an essential part of my life, they viewed as something they knew nothing about. It struck me that they must, along the way, have worked with gay people; they probably had neighbours who were gay, they may have even had family who were gay, but in Ireland until recently gay people had a way of living in the shadows, not declaring ourselves. We had a sort of secret city – bars and discoes, bath houses, websites, places of assignation – and some of us had become skilled at moving between these places as though we were invisible. Invisibility became part of a survival mechanism.

The downside of that was that people simply did not know about us, and more importantly, did not know that our way of loving has precisely the same contours and textures as anyone else’s, the same fears and intensities, the same needs and comforts. One of those needs includes the need for the same rituals and the same constitutional protection as other people have and enjoy.

Other communities who have been oppressed – Jewish people, say, or Catholics in Northern Ireland – have every opportunity to work out the implications of their oppression in their early lives. They hear the stories; they have the books around them. As gay people, on the other hand, we grow up alone; there is no history. There are no ballads about the wrongs of the gay past, the gay martyrs are mostly forgotten. It is as though, in Adrienne Rich’s phrase, if you were gay, “you looked into the mirror and saw nothing”. Thus the discovery of a history and a tradition and a sense of heritage must be done by each individual, as though alone, as part of the road to freedom, or at least knowledge.

This is maybe why this same-sex marriage referendum campaign, the one we are going through now, has been so liberating for gay people and for our friends and families. It has allowed us to set out publicly and communally who we are and how we wish to be treated in our country in the future. It has allowed us to have a public debate with our entire nation about our need for recognition and equality. It has allowed us to speak openly about the terms of our love. The level of support has been heartening, encouraging, inspiring. After 2015, it is unlikely that there will be many people in Ireland who will not know about us, have a sense of how ordinary our desires are. Or see how normal and middle-of-the-road most of us are.

As of now, we have, it seems, no wish to question marriage as an institution, or undermine the centrality of the family under the Irish Constitution; instead we seek to embrace marriage and strengthen the idea of the family and our involvement in it. We seek to enhance the institution of marriage. We want to make the same vows as others do, for the same reasons. We want to live in the ease and with the protection which marriage offers. It is not hard to see how much happiness and relief this will bring to us and to our families; it is, however, hard also to see how this will adversely affect other people who already enjoy the benefits of marriage, the majority of whom will, we hope, be generous enough to want to allow us to share what they already have. What we want is strangely simple: we want to be included. Winning the right to marry on May 22nd will lift a great weight from us and those who wish us well; it will be a liberation for us, and a milestone in the history of increasing tolerance in Ireland.

In 1941 the Irish novelist Kate O’Brien published The Land of Spices, which is one of her best novels, and one of the greatest novel ever written about the religious life. Towards the end of the third chapter, the young Helen Archer, who will later become a Reverend Mother, comes home unexpectedly from school in Brussels and saw her father and another man “in the embrace of love”.

This single image, the only reference to homosexuality in the book, is all the more explosive and dynamic because of that. For those four words “the embrace of love”, the book was banned by the Irish Censorship Board.

They are the very words now that, in this campaign, animate us and nourish us. Because we are not talking about abstract rights, abstract discrimination. We are not even talking about sexuality. Rather, we are talking about love, about the embrace of love, about how our love equals the love of our fellow citizens who are heterosexual, and how right and necessary it seems to us, indeed how much of an imperative, that our love should be ritualised and copper-fastened and celebrated in marriage in the same way as everybody else’s love. If there is someone who believes that our love is of a lesser order than theirs, how can they know this? Who have they asked?

Kate O’Brien, who was a great stylist, was also a writer with a keen, brittle mind and a sharp eye. A tremendous maker of phrases, she mixed irony and sympathy in equal measure. As we come up to voting day, it seems fitting to invoke her great old spirit. Helen’s father and the man in The Land of Spices were not merely embracing, but they were “in the embrace of love”. That is what the girl saw, and it was perhaps that idea which so disturbed the Censorship Board, the idea that there was someone not willing to caricature sexual relations between men, but rather offer them dignity and suggestiveness, and then bring in the word, the word that should dominate out thinking and our argument over the next week. The word is love, our love. That is what matters to us most now as equality comes close.

This article is an abridged version of a public talk given by Colm Tóibín in Trinity College Dublin focusing on same-sex relationships and literature entitled ‘The Embrace of Love: Being Gay in Ireland Now’ on Thursday, May 14th, 2015.

Marriage referendum debated live on UTV Ireland

Representatives of both sides of the marriage referendum coin discussed the issues live on UTV Ireland on Monday in the first of a series of referendum debates this month.

Marriage referendum debate one

Videos (3)

News anchor Alison Comyn explored both Yes and No vote arguments from representatives of Mothers and Fathers Matter, Yes Equality, Stand Up for Marriage and Labour LGBT from UTV Ireland’s Cork studios on Monday.

On May 22, the electorate will be asked to vote on the proposal to add a new clause to Article 41 of the Constitution: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”

Mothers and Fathers Matter spokesperson Margaret Hickey and Stand Up for Marriage chairman Barry Jones represented the No side on Monday’s debate.

Ms Hickey said: “Marriage in Article 41 is described as the foundation on which the family is structured, so if you change the definition of marriage which you are doing in a very fundamental way by taking it from a gender-based instruction to a gender-less institution, you are going to obviously profoundly change the constitutional understanding of parenting and family.”

Mr Jones added: “If it does go through, what will happen is that the definition of marriage will be changed and if that is changed, because of the way the Constitution is written, then family will be changed.

“The definition of family, or what it means, will be changed and if it is changed that means the fundamental building block of society, society will change but if it changes artificially it has to give rise to trouble,” he added.

Yes Equality’s Joe Noonan and Catherine Clancy from the Labour Party’s LGBT group were proposing a Yes vote.

Mr Noonan said: “Civil partnership is something that is understood by family lawyers. Marriage is understood by everybody and everybody should be entitled to marry subject to the law and that is what we are voting on.”

Ms Clancy added: “This referendum is a one liner and all you are being asked is do you agree that same sex couples can marry. In Ireland alone we have 220,000 gay or lesbian citizens – the population of cork is 120,000 people – so that is near double the population of Cork city.

“What we are saying is on May 22 to go out and give those 220,000 people, if they wish, the right to marry the same as you or me and anybody else and to have that recognition for their relationship.”

Meanwhile, former Cork Hurler Conor Cusack said a Yes vote would send out an important message.

“I just think that we had the decriminalisation of homosexuality some years ago and I think this referendum is another stepping stone on that long road to equality, because it is not about wanting to be treated as less than or more than anyone else. It is about wanting to be treated equally,” he said.

In recent years, both Conor and his brother Donal Óg came out as gay.

“I know for people out there there is a load of fear and worry around this but ultimately what this comes down to is the things that bind us all as human beings. It is a desire to be loved and to be able to love,” Conor added.

However, First Families First argue that a Yes vote will radically change the legal meaning of family and parenthood. Their concerns centre on the wording of the referendum.

“Judges can only work with what they are being given and what they are being given is a complete change in the landscape of family law which is going to result with sadness. It is going to play out in a lot of tragedy for children and for their biological parents in the future,” said First Families First representative Kathy Sinnott.

Two gay couples also told UTV Ireland about their differing views on the upcoming referendum.

Paul Dalton, who entered into a civil partnership with his partner Des two years ago, said he is still unsure what to call his other half, which he says makes his relationship feel less important.

“For a lot of people, introducing him as my civil partner doesn’t make any sense. That language doesn’t translate. Not being able to introduce Des as my husband is very strange and very limiting.

“Our relationship is different and inferior. My father said recently, ‘when this is passed will your civil partnership be upgraded?’ He is 78 years old. He didn’t really knows what he was saying but I think it captures it,” explained Paul.

However, Keith Mills who is about to celebrate a one year anniversary with his partner, has a completely different opinion on the referendum and will be voting no.

“Ireland has transformed completely in the past number of years. We have gay ministers, business leaders, sportsmen, journalists, judges and it is terrific and we don’t need gay marriage.

“We have to think of the issue of surrogacy – giving same sex couples the right to marriage gives them the right to surrogacy. I look at the situation like Elton John and his partner bringing children into the world and excluding the mother and I’m very uncomfortable with that.

“I hope that the referendum fails and I will then campaign to put civil partnerships on an equal standing with the constitution so we have that diversity recognised forever and ever,” said Keith.

Monday’s discussion will be followed by a live debates on the Age of Presidential Candidates Referendum in Dublin on 12 May and in Galway on 18 May.

The series of referendum debates will cumulate with a final debate on the Marriage Referendum in UTV Ireland’s Dublin studio on 19 May.

UTV Ireland’s Referendum Debate Schedule:

11 May: Marriage Referendum Debate

Broadcast live from Cork on Ireland Live at 10pm

12 May: Age of Presidential Candidates Referendum Debate

Broadcast live from Dublin on Ireland Live at 10pm

18 May: Age of Presidential Candidates Referendum Debate

Broadcast live from Galway on Ireland Live at 10pm

19 May: Marriage Referendum Debate

Broadcast live from Dublin on Ireland Live at 10pm

23 May: Regular updates from the Ireland Live News team throughout the day, with a special edition of Ireland Live at 5.30pm