Ursula Halligan, political editor of TV3 in Ireland, has a wrenching piece in the Irish Times today, coming out and supporting same-sex marriage. She starts with a tragic example of the way religion can cause people wholly unnecessary self-loathing and misery.
I was a good Catholic girl, growing up in 1970s Ireland where homosexuality was an evil perversion. It was never openly talked about but I knew it was the worst thing on the face of the earth.
So when I fell in love with a girl in my class in school, I was terrified. Rummaging around in the attic a few weeks ago, an old diary brought me right back to December 20th, 1977.
“These past few months must have been the darkest and gloomiest I have ever experienced in my entire life,” my 17-year-old self wrote.
“There have been times when I have even thought about death, of escaping from this world, of sleeping untouched by no-one forever. I have been so depressed, so sad and so confused. There seems to be no one I can turn to, not even God. I’ve poured out my emotions, my innermost thoughts to him and get no relief or so-called spiritual grace. At times I feel I am talking to nothing, that no God exists. I’ve never felt like this before, so empty, so meaningless, so utterly, utterly miserable.”
Wholly, entirely unnecessary, you see – all that was because she thought she was someone terrible in the eyes of God, for no good reason whatever. It wasn’t because she was a cruel bully making other students’ lives hell. It wasn’t because she enjoyed torturing animals. It wasn’t because she was unkind to her parents or neighbors or teachers. It was simply because she fell in love with a girl.
So she locked herself in the closet, as she puts it. She pretended.
In the 1970s, homophobia was rampant and uninhibited. Political correctness had yet to arrive. Homosexuals were faggots, queers, poofs, freaks, deviants, unclean, unnatural, mentally ill, second class and defective humans. They were society’s defects. Biological errors. They were other people. I couldn’t possibly be one of them.
Emotionally, I have been in a prison since the age of 17; a prison where I lived a half-life, repressing an essential part of my humanity, the expression of my deepest self; my instinct to love.
It’s a part that heterosexual people take for granted, like breathing air. The world is custom-tailored for them. At every turn society assumes and confirms heterosexuality as the norm. This culminates in marriage when the happy couple is showered with an outpouring of overwhelming social approval.
For me, there was no first kiss; no engagement party; no wedding. And up until a short time ago no hope of any of these things. Now, at the age of 54, in a (hopefully) different Ireland, I wish I had broken out of my prison cell a long time ago. I feel a sense of loss and sadness for precious time spent wasted in fear and isolation.
Twenty years ago or 30 years ago, it would have taken more courage than I had to tell the truth. Today, it’s still difficult but it can be done with hope – hope that most people in modern Ireland embrace diversity and would understand that I’m trying to be helpful to other gay people leading small, frightened, incomplete lives. If my story helps even one 17-year-old school girl, struggling with her sexuality, it will have been worth it.
As a person of faith and a Catholic, I believe a Yes vote is the most Christian thing to do. I believe the glory of God is the human being fully alive and that this includes people who are gay.
If Ireland votes Yes, it will be about much more than marriage. It will end institutional homophobia. It will say to gay people that they belong, that it’s safe to surface and live fully human, loving lives. If it’s true that 10 per cent of any population are gay, then there could be 400,000 gay people out there; many of them still living in emotional prisons. Any of them could be your son, daughter, brother, sister, mother, father or best friend. Set them free. Allow them [to] live full lives.