Being a teenaged homophobe in 1980s Ireland was an easy enough thing. Jokes about bums to the wall and poofters and all the rest of it meant that you never met anyone who used the phrase “gay rights”, never mind supporting it. The only gays you really knew were John “I’m Free!” Inman on “Are you being served?” and Larry “Shut that door!” Grayson on “The Generation Game”, and they were entertaining English gays off the telly, not real people.
You did meet lads you suspected were “like that” (cue floppy hand on wrist) and then your mates who were very funny at mocking the supposedly limp-wristed. I once hammed it up as a flaming gay psychiatrist making a pass at future FF senator Marc McSharry in a school production of “Arsenic and Old Lace”, and no one from teacher to student thought anything of it. You even encountered theories about homosexuality that, in the light of modern 21st century Ireland, are now jaw-dropping stuff. I’ve met one individual who maintained that all gays (yes, all) spoke with a lisp because their belly buttons had been loosened by gay activities. Yeah, I know.
I believed it was wrong for gays to want to force their lifestyle upon the rest of society. That we had a right not to see two fellas wearing the faces off each other on Grafton Street. That our offence was their problem.
But then things happened. I was, along with another guy in my year, the only people who came from separated families. I wasn’t bullied about it, let’s be clear, but I certainly was reminded by other people that my family circumstances were not as proper as theirs. Then I remember the 1986 divorce referendum and Haughey pretty much telling me that my parents didn’t love me as much as other parents whose marriages stayed together, and that stuck with me.
You see, I knew that my parents may have had their difficulties with each other, but I’d no doubt they loved me and my brothers. Yet here was a politician telling me that if my family didn’t conform to his publicly stated view of love, it wasn’t proper love or even a proper family. Not only did it make me begin to question what love and family really was, but it also confirmed my feelings about Haughey the two-faced moralising family-values spouting adulterer.
Soon enough after, two of my friends came out, and I wasn’t as much shocked as embarrassed by my own previous behaviour around them and my cheap gay-bashing jokes. They were no longer The Gays. They were people I cared about.
I now know that love and a family is where you find it. If it’s two mams or two dads or just one of each or neither, love and family is someone being there who gives a damn. When I’m told that a child may be embarrassed by having to tell another child in the playground that he has two daddies, I say that you don’t know kids. I wasn’t ashamed of my parents because their marriage didn’t work. If some kid had told me that my parents should not get separated because that kid didn’t like my family arrangements, I’d have told them to mind their own business, even at that age.
And that’s what this is: the Mind Your Own Business referendum. You don’t want same-sex marriage? Fine. We’re not making it compulsory. We’re not creating An Bord Panti to come around and make you stand awkwardly in a civil marriage office against your will as a buff shirtless guy dances around you to The Communards’ “Don’t Leave Me This Way”.
We’re voting to let everybody mind their own business and find love where they find it and for the state to say “Love? Yeah, we’re all for that. Knock yourself out.”
While you’re at it, spare me the attack on traditional marriage schtick too. Show me the actual marriage where two people will find their marriage transformed by Adam and Steve up the road getting hitched. How, for God’s sake? It’s not like marriage is a finite resource, and traditional couples will be left high and dry because the gays covered it in glitter and used it all up.
You don’t have to like the gays. You’re not being asked to approve the gay lifestyle. I get it. It’s not your cup of tea and you know what, you’ve a right to say that.
But we’re being asked to vote on something which won’t affect the great majority of us one way or the other, but will bring a massive amount of happiness to some other people.