Marriage Equality Comes to the Emerald Isles

by: Tom McIntyre

Passage of the Marriage Equality Bill in Ireland showed us that the equality movement makes the most progress when it makes ripples, not big splashes….

dublin marriage equlity mural

I’m neither a writer nor an activist, but last month I felt compelled to compose an email to family and friends regarding the May 22nd vote for marriage equality in Ireland. In the letter I mentioned that, if passed, Ireland will become the first country in the world to approve marriage equality by a popular, national vote. I also mentioned that I was proud that Ireland was taking up this vote because, you see, I’m married to an Irishman.

Five years ago I met my husband, Frank, in New York City. It might sound cliché, but we matched well from the start. We both loved to travel, bar hop and spend time together. The relationship was not easy to maintain as for three years we lived in different cities, Frank in The Big Apple and me down in our nation’s capital, Washington, DC. We only managed to see each other one or two weekends a month, but our bond was strong. Thank heavens for unlimited text message plans.

I mentioned Frank was Irish, as in fresh-off-the-boat Irish (or plane if you will). Our relationship found even more complications when we decided to marry. Same-sex marriage was legal in Washington, DC and in New York, that was not an issue and we were committed to each other. The problem was the Defense of Marriage Act, better known as DOMA, which was signed into law by President Clinton in 1996. With DOMA in place, even with a recognized marriage by the District of Columbia or New York City, the Federal Government would not accept an application for Frank’s green card.

I did a lot of self-reflecting as a Democrat during this time. I had a hard time understanding how one of my political heroes, President Clinton, could negotiate such a compromise with the House Republicans, then sign it into law. Regardless of this fact, on June 26th, 2013, the Supreme Court saved my marriage, with a 5-4 ruling in U.S. v. Windsor, striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act’s definition of marriage as one man and one woman. Not something you hear everyday, I know, but without the High Court’s ruling, Frank could have easily been sent back to Ireland. Then what would we have done?

Going through this process opened my eyes. Like I said, I’m no activist crusading for gay rights, but I’ve become deeply engaged in the issue of equality, which is why I decided to share our journey. In my experience, the root cause of injustices such as this is ignorance. When someone close to you, like a family member, comes out, you start to realize that being gay doesn’t change who a person is, but rather opens your eyes to a deeper part of who they are.

The ‘YES’ campaign in Ireland portrayed image after image of families supporting families. Siblings, parents and grandparents alike, of all walks of life, were shown heading to the polling stations to insure that their brothers, sisters, children and grandchildren were equal in the eyes of the law. Their message was not only heard, it reverberated all over the Emerald Isle on May 23rd, 2015 with the overwhelming passage of the bill.

In the lead up to the vote, my husband and I had candid conversations about the challenges we faced growing up gay. Frank was bullied when he was a kid. At almost six and a half feet tall, you don’t necessarily think someone that big could be bullied, but I guess he wasn’t always that large. Fact is, kids can be cruel, but behavior is frequently learned at home. Kids pick up on subtleties and if there are negative thoughts being expressed about a person, race or orientation, there is a strong likelihood that these biases will be passed down.

For me, I didn’t face many problems growing up, and for that I consider myself extremely lucky. I spent eighteen years in Catholic schools, became an Eagle Scout, was a student leader in high school, and received a scholarship to the Catholic University of America, the only Catholic university in America to be recognized by the Vatican. I came out at CUA in my freshman year. This was partly because I was ready, and partly because CUA had a renowned theatre and drama department, which allowed for me to be surrounded by others in my situation. Of course, there were some uncomfortable times, but my family and friends supported me, even the ones who would use words like “faggot” or make comments when they saw a same-sex couple together.

Our twenties were a defining time for Frank and I. Our experiences help build our character, and usually aid us in becoming a stronger people. In many instances today, however, kids do not have the support structure Frank and I both were fortunate to have. We always knew that our family and friends had our back. This is what helped us cope, not just with coming out, but with any problems we faced growing up. We were lucky to have been (and continue to be) surrounded by such caring and devoted people.

The equality movement makes the most progress when it makes ripples, not big splashes. People are slowly coming around on this issue, especially the older generations. When you think about it, many of our parents and grandparents were taught that homosexuality was a disease. That it was wrong in the eyes of God, and those who commit these acts will go to Hell. In Ireland, faith is a real part of one’s being. It is no secret that the country is overwhelmingly Catholic, and throughout history, the Church ran many aspects of your daily life. Recently, however, people have been distancing themselves from the Church, but not from their faith. Ireland is a country that has the 6:01 and 12:01 news, because at 6am, 12pm and 6pm, you pray the Angelus. You wait sixty seconds for a Guinness to settle before you finish pouring, because it is believed that Arthur Guinness started pouring his first pint at 5:59. But, as the world becomes more accepting, and more people come to grips with their sexuality, people are thawing in their beliefs, and putting love over ignorance. Many people may not agree with the lifestyle, but they do believe that individuals have the right to equality.      

The people of Ireland are some of the most endearing people you’ll ever meet in the world. They’ll open their home to you and treat you like family. On my first visit with Frank, I had never received such a homecoming. Their son, brother, grandson, nephew and cousin had returned home with his fiancé, and after meeting, drinking, dancing and singing with those who supported Frank all these years, I knew deep down how Ireland would vote on equality….the right way.

There are still many more ripples to make. But the tide has turned, and I hope more progressive countries will bring equality to their borders. It is hard to believe that up until 1993, being ‘different’ in Ireland could land you prison. In just two decades, the country has evolved immensely. An overwhelming majority voted to create a society where equality is championed, and bigotry and intolerance are taking a back seat. This is the Ireland I know….a country where you better keep your business to yourself, and god help ye’ if you mess with the family.

1 Comment

  • Tom, beautifully and compellingly written. Thank you so much for sharing! I do believe that the slow battle for marriage equality, when looked back upon in a couple generations, will be a great embarrassment for our time- much like women’s voting rights and segregation.

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