Saturday 24 February 2018

Mary McAleese: ‘I always knew my son was gay’

Breda Heffernan and Geraldine Gittens

Yes vote advocate and former President of Ireland Mary McAleese has joked that she knew her son Justin was gay from when he was as young as seven.

"I probably knew from the time he asked Santa Claus for a vaccum cleaner when he was 7 to be honest," the former president joked.

“I had an idea for a very long time. I was always very glad that he grew up in a happy home where he never heard a homophobic word uttered,” she explained.

Last month, Justin publicly came out as a gay man and called for people to vote yes in Friday's marriage equality referendum.

Mrs McAleese has also admitted she was not able to protect her gay son from “hostility” outside their home.

Addressing a Yes campaign event in Dublin this morning, Mrs McAleese said no parent brings their child into the world to be treated as a second class citizen.

“I am grateful that my gay son grew up in a gay-friendly household. But we were not able to protect him from hostility outside our home and like so many parents of gay children we were worried sick about the man-made barriers we knew he would encounter, including the Constitutional barrier that would never let him marry the person he loved.

“Ironically he is a twin and his heterosexual twin faces no such barrier.

“No parent brings a child into the world to be a second class citizen,” she added.

Mrs McAleese, who attended the BeLonG To family event with her husband, former Senator Martin McAleese, said a Yes win in the referendum will not affect their marriage, but it will affect their lives and lives of all parents of gay children.

“It will give us peace of mind about our children’s future and pride in our community’s commitment to true equality.”

She spoke of how her generation grew up in an Ireland where homosexual acts were criminalised and gay couples could not live openly in loving relationships.

“When my mother told an older gay male that my son was gay, he started to cry and said sadly, ‘God help him, he will have a lonely life’.”

In response to Mrs McAleese’s address, a spokeswoman for Mothers and Fathers Matter, which is campaigning for a No vote, said while the former president is speaking from the best of intentions, it is important that she and others voting Yes “pause and consider this one last time before they radically change our understanding of the family”.

Spokeswoman Eileen King said: “We in the No campaign echo her warm words about gay people, and equality.

“If this was a referendum about how we felt about gay people, then I for one would vote yes with a full heart.

“Unfortunately, it’s about more than that. It’s about the fact that on Saturday morning, if we vote yes, the highest laws of our land will say that there is no difference whatsoever between the marriage of two men, and the marriage of a man and a woman.”

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