Gay Irish emigrants come home for Christmas

A Yes result in next year's same-sex marriage referendum would herald a positive shift in attitudes, say visiting LGBT Irish people

Returned emigrant Tom Lawlor: ‘I’ve never felt any homophobia. I’ve never felt that my relationships have been judged differently from those of my peers.’ Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Support for same-sex marriage is rising steadily, and a majority is ready to vote Yes in next year's constitutional referendum. Seventy-one per cent of people surveyed for an Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll said that they would vote in favour, 17 per cent that they would vote against. But first comes Christmas. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are coming home to Ireland this Christmas with their spouses, partners, children and friends, and on their own. What are their feelings now about the upcoming referendum?

‘There are people in serious relationships abroad who would like to come home’: Fiona de Londras, Professor of law, Durham University 

"If we do this we would be the first country to introduce marriage equality by a popular vote of the whole electorate.

“We are Irish, and how the State treats Irish people like us would be something to change. It would be something to be really proud of abroad as well as at home.

“Lots of people ask me about Ireland’s record on social issues. They mention the Magdalene laundries, clerical abuse, abortion rights and so on. It all seems very negative, so this would be such a positive thing.

With Christmas just around the corner, we speak to arrivals in Dubln airport's Terminal 2. DAA expects over three quarters of a million people to pass through the airport over the holiday season. Video: Kathleen Harris

“I come from a rural background in Tipperary. For me it will be something we talk about around the Christmas lunch table.

“The vote is not just about me. It is also about my parents. It is so important for my parents that their child is treated in the same way as everyone else’s child.

“Of course one of the things I’ll be doing at Christmas is talking to my parents to get them to talk to their friends at work, in the GAA and so on. My two sisters will be doing anything they can do, too.

“There are Irish people who are gay and who don’t get a vote because we live abroad. There are people who are in a serious relationship abroad, who would like to come home, but they don’t have the same protections for their relationship at home. You can’t ask a person you love, who you are in a relationship with, to give all their rights away. It’s too much to ask.”

‘People in Paris assume there is gay marriage in Ireland’: Conor Prenderville Trainer, Médecins Sans Frontières 

"I live in Paris. Prior to this I spent six years working in the field in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

“People in Paris assume that because there is gay marriage in France it’s the same in Ireland. I say, ‘No, it’s not quite the same.’ They might start equating it with Uganda, for example, and I say, ‘No, it’s not quite as bad as that. It’s legal, and we now have civil partnership, but we hope to have marriage next year, after the referendum.’

“Home is Castleknock, in Dublin. Everyone in the room knows I’m gay. I come from a fairly conventional nuclear family – I have one brother and two sisters.

“I’m going home for Christmas, and I’ll be going out for a drink with old friends, so I’ll definitely bring up the issue of the referendum.

“It’s important to me that little kids in the future see this whole gay thing as normal. If those people think about the difficulties kids have had, and passing this referendum will make it easier for them to be accepted for being who they are, that’s good.

“It’s like kids are going to be gay or they’re not going to be gay. There’s nothing anyone can do about that, but they can know that their society is okay with that. This will make things better.

“It’s like going to a rugby school and saying, at the end of your six years there, ‘Actually, I always preferred GAA to rugby.’ ”

‘Every Christmas everyone asks, When are you two going to get married?’: Nik Quaife, director of communications, Irish Arts Center, New York 

“I moved to New York about 18 months ago, but I get to come back to Ireland often. The Irish Arts Center is due to open in Manhattan in the next couple of years.

“I have two families. I was born to an Irish woman who gave me up for adoption. I was brought up in England and then Canada, when my adoptive parents moved there. I came to Ireland, where my birth mother is, when I was 24. She had married my birth father and had four more children. My adoptive parents have since moved to Ireland, so I have four parents here.

“Of course, that meant I had to come out four times.

“Myself and my American boyfriend, Emerson, have always intended to make a life partnership together. Settling down for good is on the cards. This is not temporary: it has a future. Marriage is a right, and we should have equal rights. We should be able to marry who we want, do what we want, sit where we want.

“New York passed gay marriage in 2011, and until then many of our straight friends wouldn’t get married, because LGBT people couldn’t. They said it was a bit like the civil-rights movement. They felt like they were sitting up at the counter eating when African-Americans couldn’t.

“We’re not at the point of deciding where we’ll get married, but it would seriously bother me not to be able to have the choice to get married in the country I love. Equally, if we did get married in the US I would be seriously offended if our marriage wasn’t recognised in Ireland.

“I’m going to have this Christmas with my adopted parents in New York. Both families are fine with my sexuality.

“Every Christmas everyone asks, ‘When are you two going to get married?’ A lot of people don’t realise that gay people can’t get married in Ireland.

“When I first came back to Ireland, in 1997, homosexuality had only been decriminalised for two years. So we’ve moved so far. We have a great opportunity for Ireland to say yes to equal rights.”

‘Awareness of gay life in Ireland rose while I was away’: Tom Lawlor, returned emigrant; arts marketing and PR consultant 

“I’ve been out since I was 22. I’m 31 now. I lived in Dublin for most of my life, but I moved to Melbourne about a year ago. My emigration wasn’t forced. I elected to go to somewhere I had wanted to go to for a while, and I had a great time.

“I always loved Ireland. There is a great arts scene, and gay life in Ireland was exciting. I’ve never felt any homophobia. I’ve never felt that my relationships have been judged differently from those of my peers.

“There was a real uplift in awareness of gay life in Ireland while I was away. I think that a lot of people have been introduced to Irish gay life and to gay people by the likes of Panti’s Noble Call at the Abbey Theatre. Next year this politicisation may become equality. I hope so.

“While I might not be getting married right now, I want to be able to get married for the right reasons – or for the wrong reasons. I want the choice.

“I think that the feelings I have for a partner are no lesser than those my married sister or my parents have. I have far fewer rights than my family.”