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I knew my son was gay when he asked for a vacuum for Christmas, jokes Mary

FORMER President Mary McAleese has joked that she knew her son was gay based on the presents he requested for Christmas.

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

Mrs McAleese said that she had an inkling about her son's preferences from a young age.

"I probably knew from the time he asked Santa Claus for a vacuum cleaner when he was seven, 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."

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

Mrs McAleese, who is calling for a 'Yes' vote in Friday's marriage referendum, admitted this is a "personal" campaign for her.

"I would have loved to have had the opportunity, from when he was aged 11 through to 21, to hug him and tell him it will be alright, we have your back and we're with you," she said.

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

She has been a member of the campaign for homosexual law reform for four decades but said that, for all of that work and the creation of a gay-friendly home with her husband Martin, Justin felt unable to tell his parents that he was gay until he was 21.


"In the early years when Martin and I were married, I became a founder member of that campaign," she said.

"I always look back now and thank God that I did because it meant that our son grew up in a very gay-friendly household -a house that was open to gay people, where we were always campaigning on gay rights, where he was hearing very positive things about gay people.

"And yet, for all that, at the age of 21 he told us about this inner journey, this lonely inner journey, that he had been going all those years, that he still felt he could not share," she added.

"I'd like to think that we are going to absolve young people in the future from that lonely journey. That we're going to say to them, on Friday, you are equal citizens, you can be who God created you, you can fall in love with whoever you like, you can marry that person and we, through our Constitution, will have your back."