There is no such thing as being nearly equal

Voting yes in the marriage equality referendum will reassure those young people who feel they won’t have the same opportunities because of their sexuality, writes Caoimhín Millar

There is no such thing as being nearly equal

I moved to Toronto last September. As a result, I’m not going to be able to vote in the forthcoming marriage equality referendum. This cuts me up. These are my thoughts.

When I speak to my Canadian friends regarding the referendum, or regarding sexuality in Ireland in generally, they react with a combination of bemusement, incredulity, and shock.

They can’t believe it’s still an issue. When they react like this, I stand up for Ireland. I tell them that we’re changing. I tell them that things are getting better. I stand up for Ireland because I love Ireland. Because I love Irish people. Because Ireland is where I plan to make my home. I didn’t realise how strongly I felt about all of this until I left. I suppose distance gives perspective. Anyway.

I sometimes don’t like gay people. That may seem a strange thing to say, given that I am a gay man, but it’s true. It’s the dying breath of how I felt for a very long time (I was completely in the closet until I was 25; it took a few years after that before I was entirely out). Now, from time to time, I catch myself wincing at the sight of a gay couple. Recoiling from public displays of affection. Shuddering at the thought of myself. This is a massive improvement.

I used to want to die because I was gay. It seems melodramatic, I know, but it’s true, and it happens a lot.

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Why? For me, I think the word “fag” and all it represented had a lot to do with it. Even before I knew what that word meant, I knew I mustn’t be one. Once I did know, I did my level best to ensure that there was no part of me showing that could lead anyone to call me one.

To my shame, to deflect attention, I spat the word with venom. I buried myself. I grew toxic. I hurt myself. I hurt the people I loved, in ways both minor and monstrous. At the centre of all my relationships was a lie, a construct, also called “Caoimhín”, that resembled me but was not me.

Again, why? Because I decided very early on that to be gay was to be a “fag”, and to be a “fag” was to be wrong. Incomplete. Incorrectly made. Fundamentally lacking in some crucial way.

That notion, once formed and set, was very difficult to shake.

What is it that leads a child to think like this? A child who lacks for nothing in terms of love? A child who benefits from an accepting and understanding home environment? A child who lacks for nothing materially? What is it that leads a child to believe he should not be on the earth by virtue of his sexuality?

Everyone is born with a sexual orientation, be it straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or anything in between, but no one is born with the word “fag” on their lips. In other words, sexuality isn’t learned behaviour, but the bigotry that leads to discrimination is. The law of the land and the moral teachings of the Catholic Church had a lot to do with this, creating a culture of oppression that made Ireland a very dark place to be anything other than straight for a very long time.

And we acquiesced. But, thanks to men and women who acted with the kind of courage that is humbling and precious to humanity, attitudes have been changing, and with increasing rapidity. From the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993 (I was seven-years-old), to the introduction of the Civil Partnership Act in 2010, things have undoubtedly improved in ways that would have been scarcely imaginable only a generation ago.

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With this referendum, we have a chance to continue this trend. We have a chance to send a striking message of reassurance and solidarity to those young people who don’t like themselves because of their sexuality, or who feel that they won’t have the same opportunities because of their sexuality, or who feel that their love is worth less because of their sexuality.

I don’t hate those who oppose this referendum for reasons of homophobia. I spent too long hating.

Coming from a position of internalised homophobia, I understand them, and just wish they’d put more effort into understanding me. I also don’t believe for a second that most of those opposing this referendum are homophobic. To those people, I have this to say:

Marriage is a social construct, and, as such, is amenable to change. The institution of marriage has no objective reality beyond that which we ascribe to it. This is not to diminish its hugely important role, legally and symbolically, in society. But to imagine that the institution of marriage will be undermined by expanding its scope to include the LGBT community (your sons and your daughters, your brothers and your sisters), does a disservice both to the strength of the institution and to the LGBT community.

This community wants access to marriage because it is so important. I want that access because it is so important to me.

Regarding same-sex parenthood — there are many different types of family. There always have been and there always will be. As we move towards a position where gay people are fully accepted in society, we should simultaneously move towards a position where if gay people choose to and are able to start a family, whether it be through fostering, surrogacy, or adoption, that that family has the same recognition and support of the State as any other.

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These are issues that are not directly affected by this referendum, but which obviously have a bearing on it. While I appreciate that people have concerns regarding same-sex parenthood, I disagree with the contention that a same-sex couple represents an intrinsically poorer option than any other parenting configuration.

I feel it self-evident that there are two things required for an optimal nurturing environment for a growing child. The first is an abundance of love. The second, which should flow naturally from the first, is an absolute and unwavering commitment from the parent or parents of that child to dedicate themselves to their welfare.

If I’m ever lucky enough to be a dad, these are the things that I’d hope to provide.

We’re getting closer to equality, one step at a time, but you can’t be nearly equal. I don’t want to have, or be, a nearly husband. I don’t want to be almost married.

I won’t have the scraps from the table. I want the right to participate fully in the civil institutions of the State of which I am a citizen.

It’s that simple. It’s as simple as a three-letter word, one more powerful than “fag”. It’s as simple as “yes”.

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