By John Gormley.
When excerpts from ‘In the Name of Love’, which was written and compiled by the journalist, Una Mullally, appeared in the Irish Times recently it sparked quite a bit of debate in Green Party circles. A lot of the discussion centred on why Roderic O’Gorman was not included in the long list of interviewees. Roderic was probably the person who worked hardest to ensure the introduction of civil partnership legislation. While he does receive honourable mention, the lack of a direct interview is a serious omission in what is otherwise a comprehensive and stimulating account of an important social movement. I should declare my own interest here: I was interviewed by Una Mulally for the book and later answered a series of questions by email. I realise now that my written replies were not entirely in keeping with the spirit of the undertaking. It is, after all, an oral history, and it’s the free and sometimes discursive manner of direct speech which is the real strength of this book. The interviewees talk honestly about how the movement for marriage equality evolved, providing some fascinating insights, interesting anecdotes, and claim versus counterclaim. Refreshingly, unlike the professional historian, Mullally allows readers to draw their own conclusions. Reading the text revived memories of a fraught period in government. While we were attempting to introduce the civil partnership legislation we were also dealing with an economy in meltdown. To make matters more complicated and acrimonious, elements within the Marriage Equality movement decided to portray those who opted for an incremental approach as sellouts and traitors. I don’t have a clear recollection of the much-referenced meeting with the LGBT representatives in Government Buildings, but I do recall a lesbian couple visiting my clinic and accusing me of enshrining discrimination in legislation. And how did I react to these accusations? Well, according to Gráinne Healy of Marriage Equality there may have been a ‘touch’ of resentment on my part. Believe me, it was more than a touch. I was livid. They were so successful in discrediting the legislation that David Norris was going to vote against it. He only changed his mind when Senator Rónán Mullen tried every means possible to filibuster and block it.
The book is revealing in so many ways. Dermot Ahern, the former Minister for Justice, features extensively. He rejects his categorisation as socially conservative. While his Fianna Fáil colleague and opponent of the legislation, John Hanafin, is adamant that the Bill would not have happened without a major push from the Greens in coalition. The book also shows the extent of the distrust and hostility between the fundamentalists and pragmatist in the LGBT community. Kieran Rose of GLEN concedes that Marriage Equality and Noise won the ‘communications battle’, and indeed I remember the rather muted ‘victory’ celebration in the POD nightclub. In a separate chapter, devoted to the organisation Noise, Annie Hanlon explains how it was formed by members of the Labour Party LGBT group when their private members bill was defeated.
To complete the social history the book looks forward to the forthcoming referendum. Churchill once commented that history would be kind to him because he intended to write it. Those with power and influence control the historic narrative, and whereas for generations the LGBT movement was marginalised and suffered real discrimination, it now enjoys overwhelming support in the newspapers and broadcast media. The tables have turned quite dramatically in a relatively short space of time: our Taoiseach makes an appearance in the Pantibar, elected representatives from the mainstream parties are coming out, and commentators who question gay marriage have become pariahs. Breda O’Brien, a sincere critic of marriage equality, felt her personal safety was at risk at the time of Pantigate. She expresses the hope that “the oppressed do not become oppressors” now that the liberal revolution is almost complete. With the winds blowing so strongly in the right direction, and with every political party supporting the proposition, it would appear that victory in the referendum for marriage equality is assured. But such an assumption would be a mistake. The electorate is in an unforgiving mood right now. If the political establishment tells them to vote a certain way, they might just take a notion to do the exact opposite. The bookies might tell you otherwise, but this pragmatist says it’s not a certainty.