Same-sex couple tell of long fight for marriage equality

‘It means equality, it means dignity, it means everything,’ says Barry Gardiner

Ringing the changes: Barry Gardiner and Anthony Kinahan who are getting married  in Drogheda. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Ringing the changes: Barry Gardiner and Anthony Kinahan who are getting married in Drogheda. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

For Anthony Kinahan (34) and Barry Gardiner (36), who met at a disco in Drogheda 17 years ago, today marks the “close of an emotional chapter and the beginning of another”.

Some 12 years after Anthony proposed to Barry, the couple will marry in front of 200 people – family, friends and “some of the people who made it possible” – at a humanist ceremony in the town.

“When I proposed and Barry accepted, that was a life commitment, but there was a slightly anti-climactic acceptance that that was going to be as far as we could go,” says Anthony.

Before moving to London in 2007 the couple had a civil partnership ceremony in Belfast.

“It was wonderful when we went to London then to be legally recognised as a couple,” says Barry. “Things like filling in forms, we were able to tick the box ‘civil partners’. After Ireland and always feeling a little bit as if we should be ashamed, to be accepted was great.”

Returning to Ireland in 2010 they felt once again “second-class citizens”.

Barry says he struggled with his sexuality: “I fought with myself until I was about 19 and I couldn’t fight any more.”

Both say they have friends who struggled with serious mental health issues due to their sexuality, including one who took his own life.

“We grew up in a country that didn’t accept us. It was still like that when we came back and we decided we had to fight to change that.”

They got involved in the still embryonic marriage equality campaign in 2010, lobbying TDs and organising meetings. “The focus was on legislation coming through the Ann-Louise Gilligan and Katherine Zappone case. But it became clear a referendum would be needed,” says Anthony.

In 2013 the constitutional convention recommended a referendum on same-sex marriage.

Though 70 per cent of people they canvassed reacted positively, “even the nicest ‘Nos’ were like a dagger to the heart”. The referendum passed on May 22nd last year.

Asked what it means to them to be getting married Barry says: “We fought so long and hard to get here, it’s about being the same as my sister and her husband. It means equality, it means dignity, it means everything.”

They are legally recognised as a couple here, through their civil partnership, so today will also be about saying “thank you”, says Anthony, “to the people who fought with us.