Tuesday 27 September 2016

If my wonderful Mam was with us today, she'd be knocking down doors campaigning for 'Yes' vote

Anthony Kelly

Published 14/05/2015 | 02:30

Yes, a mother's love is irreplaceable. It is also unconditional. I'm 32 and I'm gay. I saw a 'No' campaign poster for the marriage equality referendum which genuinely upset me. It stated: 'A Mother's Love is Irreplaceable. Vote No.' As a result, I'm telling my story of coming out and my mother Tina's endorsement of who I was.

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She was a single parent, a religious, practising Catholic. She died when I was 19.

In 2002, I was in my second year of my law degree in UCC. I was slowly coming to terms with my sexuality and who I was as a person. On a dreary Friday evening in October, I got the bus home to Kerry. Mam was waiting for me as the bus pulled into the station in Killarney.

I was excited to see her and find out how her week had been. I opened the door of the car and the vision of this wonderful person, my hero, still haunts me to this day. Her face was gaunt and her skin was jaundiced. I started crying.

I had not known up to this point, but my Mam had been suffering with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma for the previous 10 years. That weekend we brought her to Cork University Hospital. Aside from a short period over Christmas when Mam came home, she remained there until January 6, her birthday, when she passed away aged 54.

Over the eight weeks or so that Mam was in hospital, I would visit her between lectures and again in the evening. One evening, my Mam said: "I hope that you aren't gay."

Anthony Kelly with his late mother Tina
Anthony Kelly with his late mother Tina

Anyone who has ever come out as gay, will know the panic that sets in. I had only recently told some close friends. I was not ready to tell my Mam yet. I understood her comment to be a negative one. Silence filled the air. She held my hand as tightly as she could and said: "Your life would be so much easier if you weren't."

It became clear what she meant. I understood. Over the following weeks, I spent a lot of time with my Mam. Sometimes, I very much regret not having spent every minute I could with her.

On New Year's Day 2003, my aunt told me the harsh truth that my Mam was very unwell. Up to that point I always hoped she would get better. I prayed every day that she would. I completely broke down. We travelled to Cork immediately to see my Mam. The next number of days are a blur.

On the morning of January 6, 2003, my Mam, my hero, gave up her 10-year battle with cancer.

I was with her when she died. Whilst saying my own goodbye, she held my hand and said: "I know." She smiled at me. She told me "to be whatever I want to be and not to let anybody stand in my way". Minutes later, she passed on.

My wonderful Mam, whose love is completely irreplaceable, had shown me her unconditional love. I was her son and no matter what, she loved me. Here was a deeply religious and spiritual Catholic mother telling her son that she knew he was gay and giving him her blessing. I know if Mam was with us today that she would be supporting equality. She would want her son to have the same opportunity of happiness as any other son or daughter in Ireland.

When I saw the 'No' campaign poster I went numb. I respect everybody's right to express their opinion. But seeing a poster that is so wholly reprehensible spurred me to tell my story. My Mam was a single mother. I am grateful for every sacrifice she made for me. In the Ireland of the not-so-distant past, illegitimate children like me were placed for adoption and their mothers sent to laundries. Many of the same people who advocated this abomination are now those opposing marriage equality.

This referendum is about children. But not as the 'No' campaign would have you believe. It is about the thousands of children and young people who are coming to terms with their sexuality, alone and frightened. What message will we send to them if we vote 'No'? I hope that in 2015, no Irish mother will have to tell her son or daughter their life would be easier if they weren't gay.

I know that my caring, generous and beloved Mam would not only be voting 'Yes' but would be knocking down doors campaigning for 'Yes'. Please let me and so many others like me play a full part in society. Please let us be equal. Mam would.

Anthony Kelly
Anthony Kelly

Irish Independent

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