Former Kerry manager Mickey Ned O’Sullivan wants to tell his own family’s story to advocate a yes vote in the referendum, writes Michael Moynihan.
There is a copy of the Proclamation of Independence printed on the side of the green in Kenmare, one Mickey Ned O’Sullivan has consulted in recent weeks.
The former Kerry and Limerick football manager had been tracking the marriage referendum debate, and he wanted to get back to first principles.
“The Proclamation contains a guarantee of religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities for all citizens, and a promise to cherish all the children of the nation equally.
“I was saying to myself, ‘what would Padraig Pearse think?’ A century later and we still don’t have the society that was their ideal.”
O’Sullivan, who won All-Ireland football medals with the Kingdom in the seventies, offers a personal context.
“Marian and I have two boys, now in their mid-30s. One of them is gay, the other is straight, married with two children.
“We love them very much for who they are but I feel we’re living in a country where one of them is not treated as an equal and I wanted to give a personal story.
“I respect those people who will be voting no. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I’m just giving mine.”
Bryan O’Sullivan told his parents he was gay as an adolescent in the 1990s. Saying the ‘90s were more enlightened than the ‘80s is setting the bar pretty low. O’Sullivan Snr was nervous about his son.
“It took me by surprise. But he’s perfectly happy in himself. He was accepted from the moment he said it. I lived abroad, I’m a guidance counsellor, I’d have no agendas.
“I remember saying to him, ‘you’d want to be careful, you might get a hard time’. I thought someone might have a cut off him. He said he couldn’t live a lie, and that night he told all his friends.
“Not one person had a derogatory comment. Ever. Did that surprise me? It did. But I think we underestimate people.
“He has his own architecture business in London, he’s successful, his partner is Irish and came back to canvass during the referendum. The notion that their country would discriminate against them… it’s very hard to understand. People in most developed countries have difficulty believing that we are still in the dark ages in relation to same-sex marriage.”
O’Sullivan saw the GPA were advocating a ‘yes’ vote and felt he wanted to contribute.
“I felt the referendum is about the society we want to live in.
“It’s going to have a direct effect on the lives and happiness of 10% of the population. It’s a very serious issue.”
He argues powerfully that the basic principle of the Constitution should be that all citizens are equal under the law.
“Now, my son Bryan isn’t (equal), and there are hundreds of thousands of other citizens of the state who are the same.
“This is about creating a society that’s compassionate and inclusive, non-judgemental and all-embracing, where young people are proud of who they are regardless of gender. We don’t have that type of society yet. For evil to prosper, the good must remain silent. I felt somebody must give their point of view.”
In his day job as a guidance counsellor, O‘Sullivan often meets young people struggling with issues of sexuality: “We don’t have the society yet where they can feel at ease with themselves, feel proud of who they are.
“I’m trying to send a message of solidarity and reassurance to young people coming to terms with their sexuality
“I’d like to see us have a Christian country where all are loved equally. That’s Christianity and we still haven’t achieved that.
“Some people think it’s a decision to be gay. The reality is that whether you’re gay, lesbian or transgender, you can’t change it.
“You’re born that way and you’re discriminated against because of that. I don’t understand that in a Christian country.
“Teaching kids . . . I don’t see homophobia now among them. Older people have a different perspective, and the Catholic Church has had a profound influence on them, but there’s a contradiction in the Church’s teaching of ‘love thy neighbour’ and then not treating people with respect.
“That’s the problem. They have to get that right.”
The Kenmare native also says the GAA should “stand up” in the debate.
“They say they’re apolitical. They regard this as politics. This isn’t about politics. This is about equality. For evil to prosper, the good must do nothing.
“I think the GAA should stand up. Its market is the young people, its membership is half a million — I’d say of that, 480,000 would vote ‘yes’ if they had a vote. The GAA should go with its market.
“I think it should be more vocal. I’m a member of the GAA, I’m involved in the GAA, but I’m speaking here as a parent whose son is being discriminated against.”
O’Sullivan also dismisses attempts to muddy the waters in the debate: “What’s being done is fear is being created, people aren’t addressing the real issue, which is equality.
“The definition of family is two partners. Not kids. The debate has been diverted to create uncertainty.
“We must ask the question: do we agree that two people who love each other should be permitted to express their commitment to each other in marriage? That’s the kernel of it. It’s as simple as that. It’s not going to affect the lives of anybody else.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of people who’d be directly affected by this, and they can’t even contemplate it not going through. If it were racial discrimination people would be up in arms, and rightly so.
“What kind of society do you want for our children? Do you want your children to grow up in a society where they would be discriminated against or a society where they’re proud of who they are regardless of what they are?”
He also feels political leaders could contribute more to the debate.
“I’m disappointed with the (political) leadership. They thought it would run its own course. It won’t. People must stand up and be counted.
“Our political leaders need to do that. That’s their job: to give leadership and to create the kind of country we’re proud to live in. If they’re providing proper leadership… all the parties are in favour of it but they’re not coming out on it because they’re afraid they’ll antagonise a certain vote in.
“They’re covering themselves rather than pursuing their own convictions.”
If the measure doesn’t pass?
“It’s a concern. I’d be so disappointed.
“My job as an educator for 40 years has been to open minds — not to stereotype things but to be objective. And if you’re objective about this issue, you have to vote yes.
“I’d be disappointed as a country, but I respect people’s opinions. I want a country where our young people can live without fear, without inhibition. That they can be who they are regardless of who they are, and be proud of who they are no matter who they are.
“That’s the kind of country we want, and if we’re not ready for that, I don’t know where we’re going.”
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