Remarkable journey from criminal to equal citizen
I am immensely grateful to my heterosexual fellow citizens who went out of their way to vote Yes
What a wonderful extraordinary day Saturday was! This is a time for joy and non-triumphalist celebration. I have been privileged in my life to follow a remarkable trajectory from being defined into criminality, challenging the criminal law, losing in the High Court and Supreme Courts, finally winning out by a margin of one vote in Europe, seeing the criminal law changed and then starting to build on this basis for human and civil rights for gay people.
Fifty years ago my first boyfriend said to me outside a Wimpy Bar on Burgh Quay: “I love you David but I can’t marry you.” I still remember that all these years later.
Go forward 10 years when, after a debate on decriminalisation, the late Mona Bean O’Cribben remarked vehemently to me: “This isn’t just about decriminalisation. You have a homosexual agenda. You won’t be satisfied until you have homosexual marriage.” I turned to her and said: “What a wonderful idea, thank you very much madam, have you got any other suggestions?”
Having got rid of the criminal law we started the process of building on human and civil rights for gay people. One of the things I took under consideration was the question of marriage. At that time 20 years ago, I felt that the word marriage would be a red rag to a bull in conservative Catholic Ireland. So I deconstructed marriage to see what the tangible practical benefits flowing from that institution were and, having done so, reassembled them in a package which I called domestic or civil partnership.
In 2003/2004, I introduced the first Civil Partnership Bill in the Seanad. It was a good forthright debate but after agreement the Bill was left without vote on the order paper.
This led to the political parties taking up the challenge and creating their own civil partnership legislation. The legislation that was produced was an advance but a stumbling and faulty one. The language was insulting. Heterosexual couples, married or not, were described as having a family home, gay people were only allowed a shared home. You can share a home with a dog or a parrot. That’s why I described it as a “dog licence”.
Children in limbo
The Yes side in my opinion behaved with great dignity throughout but were a little inclined to be deferential to the No side. The No side on the other hand were not the slightest bit reticent in trashing or ignoring the views of acknowledged experts. It was said by the No side that there were already existing equality provisions in the Constitution. As indeed there are. But these protocols were fully in place when I sued the Government to remove the criminal sanction against gay people. Nevertheless, the High Court and Supreme Courts found that there was nothing in these provisions to invalidate the sending to jail for periods from 10 years to life imprisonment of gay men. So much for the protections of the equality provisions. That is why it was so utterly necessary to put a protection for gay people for the first time into the Constitution and recognise their rights.
Some of the churches claimed that their rights would be infringed. But this is civil marriage not religious marriage. Nobody contemplates trying to compel churches like the Catholic Church to marry gay couples. Whether they ever do or not is their decision and theirs alone. But taking into account that they routinely bless agricultural instruments, domestic pets and bombs, I personally don’t think it would kill them to give a blessing to two people who love each other. And as for the domestic pets, as I have said in the past, how do they know they weren’t blessing lesbian goldfish? It is impossible to know. I did, however, get the occasional laugh, as for example when the perfect family illustrated in a No poster contacted the media to say they were in fact Yes supporters.
It is all over now, as the Rolling Stones used to sing, and I forgive and forget the No campaigners. But I am immensely grateful to my heterosexual fellow citizens who went out of their way to vote Yes. Without them we could not have won. I will always be grateful, having been voted by a majority of the citizens of the Irish Republic to be at last a free and equal member of society.