When I was younger, and a lot more innocent, I used to worry that my gay radar was a little out of kilter. Working in London in the early 2000s, one colleague I had figured for gay was straight and another I was sure was straight wasn’t. It upset me a little that I could get it so wrong until I realised what I was doing – labelling.
Both were lovely. It didn’t much matter what their sexual orientation was. It was immaterial. And yet I had subconsciously bought in to the need to classify. Back then, the discovery that someone was gay was something that was talked about, often in terms of surprise – Hey, did you know? Me? I hadn’t a clue.
I had my first open and frank conversation with a couple of lesbian friends about 20 years ago – the whole nature vs nurture debate was raging and I was curious. I’d grown up in a predominately white, straight, Catholic society and had an innate curiosity about anyone who didn’t fit that mould. I asked questions – I’ve always asked questions – because I wanted to understand, to know more.
I wanted to know what it was like to be black in LA during the Rodney King riots; I wanted to know what it was like to be gay in Uganda where it still warrants life imprisonment; I wanted to know what it as like to be Jewish in Europe in the 1940s. I didn’t trust the books or the scientific studies – I wanted to hear first-hand and so when I got the chance, I asked questions. And the more I learned, the more amazed I was that the nature vs nurture debate still had traction. That anyone could believe that being gay is a choice is beyond me – but that’s just my opinion.
We all have our life stories, our scripts. How we choose to tell those stories pretty much defines who we are. That some people still struggle in telling their stories, still feel the need to hide the fact that they’re gay or in a same-sex relationship, says more about society’s intolerance than it does about them. But it’s sad.
People ask where God was hiding in the camps in the 1940s; perhaps a better question might be where were the Christians hiding? I’ve been taught that mine is not to judge. I’ve been taught that everyone – everyone – is equal in God’s eyes. I’ve been taught that the first tenet on which Christianity is based is to ‘love thy neighbour’ – and that one didn’t come with any caveats like to love them if they’re Catholic, if they’re straight, if they’re solvent.
Yesterday, Ireland went out to vote on ‘gay marriage’. I read somewhere today that for every two who voted in favour, one voted against. And they I’m sure have their reasons, reasons that should be respected if democracy is to work. We are all entitled to our opinions. Much has been said on social media in the last few months. And the one post that sticks with me is a photo showing Rosa Parks sitting on a bus.
Some people ask, ‘why do gay couples need to get married when they can already have civil partnership?’ Well, that’s not equality. That’s like saying, why did Rosa Parks need to sit at the front of the bus when she could sit at the back?
Not all gay people voted Yes. Some are happy with a civil union, believing that marriage should be reserved for a mother, father, and child. Many of my friends who voted No believe this, too. And that’s fine. If you’re gay and you’d prefer a civil partnership to marriage, that’s your choice. But remember, you now have a choice.
For me, that’s what the referendum was about – equality of choice. I personally don’t think abortion is right and I have issues with IVF. But I would never vote in favour of denying another woman her right to choose or castigate someone who has made a choice I wouldn’t make for myself. I’m straight. And if I want to get married, I can. I have that choice. That this choice is denied to some of my friends around the world is inconceivable.
There are 196 countries in the world and about 20 or so have legalised or are on their way to legalising same sex marriage. Not great by any means but it’s a start. I wondered about Ireland, whether we’d do it or not. Honestly, I didn’t think it would pass. I hoped. I prayed. I doubted. But it looks like it has. And I’m so happy about that. Now my friends have the same choice … a choice that I’ve always had. They can choose to get married. And for that, I’m truly grateful.