FORMER MINISTER PAT Carey has said that many gay people of his generation are lonely because they can’t open up about their sexuality.
Carey (68) was speaking at the launch of Fianna Fáil’s campaign for a Yes vote in the same-sex marriage referendum.
He spoke publicly about his own sexuality for the first time in February during an interview with RTÉ. Since then, he said he has “heard from and spoken to an enormous number of people of my own generation”.
Carey said he has spent the last two months attending civil society debates on same-sex marriage around the country.
We’ve had great conversations, so far those conversations have been extraordinarily respectful. People are, for the first time that I can recall, listening to each other during a referendum. My generation, God knows, carries the scars of many divisive referendums. I don’t think this will be like that, I hope think it’s not going to be.
But I know this for certain – there are many, many people of my generation out there who are living excruciatingly lonely and isolated lives. They’re finding it virtually impossible to exist.
Carey spoke about one man who sent him an 11-page letter about his own long distance relationship.
He said the couple “avoided civil partnership because they didn’t feel it was for them”, but “they were looking forward to being able to marry”.
One of the men now has Alzheimer’s and is in a nursing home.
“That couple will never enjoy the pleasure of marriage,” Carey said.
Carey said he respects the position of people who are uncomfortable about same-sex marriage, but called on them to take time over the next three weeks to reconsider and take the “brave step” of voting Yes.
“I think what is being proposed will actually enhance the fabric of Irish society. It will make Ireland a truer and better republic.”
Carey said that, as we approach the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, if the Irish public votes Yes “we won’t just be paying lip service to the Proclamation, but will we value all the children of the nation equally”.
Also speaking at the launch, Senator Averil Power said research has shown young gay and lesbian people are six times more likely to take their own lives.
She said this is because they fear they won’t be accepted or have the same opportunities as their straight siblings or friends.
Power said most gay people realise their sexual orientation at 12, but the average age of coming out is 21, noting this means many people go through “nine years of hiding a huge part of who you are”.
She said a Yes vote will send “a message of love and solidarity” to the “teenager sitting in dark room afraid to tell his parents” and “the elderly woman in rural Ireland who has never told her family [about her sexuality]“.
Party leader Micheál Martin said Fianna Fail has championed gay rights for a long time.
“The decriminalisation of homosexuality, banning of hate speech against homosexuals, equal status protection, employment equality rights and finally civil partnerships for same sex couples were all enacted by Fianna Fáil ministers,” he stated.
Martin said the legal definition of marriage has “changed in the past and we were the better for it”.
If we extend marriage equality to same sex couples we are saying to them that we value the fact that they are willing to make a loving commitment to each other. Those of us who already have the right to be married will lose nothing and what we will gain is an enhanced status for marriage in our society.
Martin said it is “outrageous” that some people have equated marriage to having children, saying he “cannot accept any argument which effectively says that a married couple with no children, or which can have no children, is a second-class marriage”.
“I cannot accept that a child should be stigmatised by being told that they live in a family which does not conform to an ideal.”
He said it was unfair to bring issues such as surrogacy into the debate.
In the past the No side has dismissed this. Keith Mills of Mothers and Fathers Matter said people who think surrogacy is not a linked issue “don’t understand the full implications of what the referendum will do”.
“Not only will the referendum redefine marriage, it will redefine the family,” Mills stated.