Reflecting on the momentous ‘yes’ vote on same-sex marriage by a popular vote in Ireland that took place yesterday, I remember the time that my son told me that he was gay. It took place in my sitting room one night when he was seventeen years of age. The year was 2002.
Ireland was a different place thirteen years ago. It seems like such a short space in time, but looking back from the inside out, society has radically changed since then.
Over the intervening days after he ‘came out’, as parents I hope we provided lashings of emotional support. I remember it being a bit ‘hit and miss’ at times and his dad struggled more than I did. He thought it might be ‘just a phase’. This was a path that we never thought we would have to walk, and we were completely unprepared for it.
While I was supporting him, I was also trying to cope with my own personal feelings of grief, as I silently and secretly mourned the daughter in law that I would never have, and the loss of his children that would never be born that I would never hold. How selfish of me.
A few nights later overhearing him crying alone in his bedroom believing that we might not accept his orientation was heart-breaking but pivotal in our relationship and how we viewed him as a person. We immediately surrounded him with acceptance and love and assured him of our support. How could we not. (His dad and I quickly got over ourselves and our own feelings.)
Over the next few weeks we eventually had conversations about his own troubles and about his sadness on realising that he might never be a parent as he has always loved children, but all the while we talked about a future where many things, including being a father were possible.
I believe that we all have unconscious trajectories of how we hope life will work itself out for our children. We have dreams and hopes, and we want the best for them. We don’t want their lives to be marked by discrimination, prejudice or hatred, and naively we expect that somehow the universe will deliver.
My son’s ‘coming out’ marked a transitional period in our lives. As an Irish Mammy, I was consumed by imaginary future hardships, rejection, acceptance, and how living/working in Ireland as a gay man would be. He on the other hand was coping with the day to day struggles of being ‘different’ and coming out to his peers and how they viewed him.
Throughout this time he was still my boy, beloved and unchanged, and my extended family, but especially my mother Monnie and sister Annie were the most wonderfully supportive people when I told them. They reassured him of their acceptance and love, and I never loved my mam more than I did during that time. She never made a smart comment, lewd or otherwise as she would never hurt him. She embraced his orientation, and throughout the remainder of her life would always ask him about boyfriends, his love life etc. in the exact same way that she asked my daughter about her boyfriends and her love life. I absolutely know how she would have voted this week.
Ireland and the world has changed so much in the past thirteen years, and being gay in 2015 is not the same as it was back then. Society has changed, protocol about being gay has changed, school policy on bullying has changed, workplace discrimination has changed, and homophobia and how it impacts on people has been highlighted and changed.
I am not suggesting that it has changed for everyone, and I realise that there are still people who are gay, afraid to be themselves, afraid to be honest and afraid to ‘come out’ to their families and friends. I hope it shifts for them.
The momentous changes that I have seen taking place in Ireland over the past few years in relation to people are staggering. From a Catholic country that was bound by religious oppression and from what Rome unilaterally decreed, we have emerged egalitarian, free thinking and accepting. Perhaps being an oppressed race historically for so long, we have finally learned who we are as a people. We have survived the tyranny of oppression as a colonised country, and we have also survived the tyranny of a religion/church that is outdated, misogynistic and unforgiving.
We have turned our backs on the sovereignty and allegiance that we had to an ideology, to a church, that cast Irish women as second class citizens, who abused these women and their children, and within the protection and confines of their church denied any wrongdoing. We have at last abandoned the discrimination that forced so many gay people to live secretive furtive lives, living in fear of being exposed as being ‘different’, and this week we voted on equality to enshrine in our constitution the legality of same sex marriage.
It is not ‘Ireland’ that has created this incredible societal change; it is the people of Ireland. The ordinary, simple, wonderful Irish citizens who are united in their belief that gay people are equal in their demand for legal marriage status in their own country. I stand proud and tall with every Irish person who voted ‘yes’ on May 22nd 2015.
A ‘yes’ vote has changed the Irish landscape forever, and as the proud mother of a gay man I am so glad and thankful that my fellow country men and women voted with me at the polls, ensuring that if my gorgeous son ever wants to marry a man that he loves, he can. Little did I ever know that night back in 2002 that this was ever going to be possible.
Destiny is an ever changing road, filled with hopes and dreams that sometimes become a reality.