Monday 24 October 2016

Such was my support for marriage equality, my sister reckons half the country thinks I'm gay

* 1990 marital rape criminalised
* 1993 homosexual acts decriminalised
* 1995 Divorce is legalised
* 2010 Civil Partnership introduced
* 2015 Marriage extended to same sex couples

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

Published 23/05/2015 | 16:00

My twin sister has a theory on why I'm still single.

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Such was my support for the historic marriage equality referendum, she reckons half the country thinks I'm gay.

I'm not.

But a little confusion among my Twitter followers, colleagues and contacts is a small price to pay for the joy I experienced today when it became clear that Ireland delivered a landslide victory for same sex marriage.

The tears were falling this morning long before the first ballot box was opened at the RDS count centre in Dublin.

But how they fell when those little bits of paper unfurled, heralding a seismic shift in Irish society, moving from divorce to gay marriage in just 20 years.

As journalists, we are meant to keep a stuff upper lip, to not get involved in the story.

But my professional standards abandoned me when Pat Carey, the Fianna Fail TD - who came out as a gay man during the campaign - wept as he entered the RDS.

I'll admit it, I wept too - I wasn't the only one.

The arrival of Amnesty International Director Colm O'Gorman and Senator David Norris to the RDS raised the roof.

O'Gorman, who came into public life as a survivor of clerical sex abuse, has emerged from the marriage equality campaign as a President in Waiting.

The eternal twinkle in David Norris' eye sometimes betrays the fact that he pioneered a 16 year legal battle to remove draconian laws dating from the Victorian age which criminalised sexual acts between men.

It was a woman, former Justice Minister Maire Geoghegan Quinn, who finally proposed the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill which effectively decriminalised homosexuality.

The RDS was electric, watching grown men and women - gay and straight - collapse into each others arms with joy.

There was no doubt about the outcome, but when results started filtering in - 61pc in Bundoran, 80pc in the Liberties in Dublin (where I voted) - joy was replaced with a stunned awe.

I started my day at 6.30am at Dublin Castle explaining to BBC Breakfast how I didn't know if the referendum was going to be a knife edge or a landslide.

I was back at Dublin Castle by 11am, predicting to their World Service that Ireland was just about to break records for the largest open air party in the world.

You can't put into words the atmosphere here in the courtyard in Dublin Castle.

It's festive yes, but upsetting too.

Because for all the celebrations, the marriage equality campaign has triggered and re-opened pain for so many who hid their sexuality for years, who struggled to find acceptance,  within themselves and within society.

One lawyer I met broke down as he explained how he felt he was back, in his early twenties, when Ireland wasn't such a tolerant place for gay men and women.

This referendum is a watershed for Irish society, for the LGBT community and their heterosexual compatriots, for the young and not so young, the haves and the have nots.

But this poll also has a massive international dimension.

We are the first country in the world to vote for marriage equality and our debate, difficult and divisive and energising as it was, will inform similar debates around the world.

Politicians will draw huge comfort from the massive turnout, but successive governments should hang their heads in shame for not dealing with longstanding issues that left many confused about the impact and consequences of a yes vote.

This includes our shocking failure to regulate assisted human reproduction and surrogacy, itself a consequence of the failure to clarify the legal status if the unborn following the 1983 pro-life referendum.

Those issues still need to be addressed.

But that is for another day.

Today is about love, simple as that, and Ireland has led the way.

I'm away off to shed a few more tears.

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