Belfast Telegraph

You can't preach unless you live outside the fold

The issue of gay marriage should not be determined by the views of those it does not concern, says Michael Wolsey

I went to school with a boy who was gay. Well, if the statistics are correct, I must have gone to school with a number of boys who were gay, but this lad stood out for his noticeably effeminate mannerisms and speech.

For the purposes of this article I'll call him Dave. Back then, we called him 'fruit' and 'lovey' and 'ducks' and sniggered behind his back, bending our wrists and fluttering our lashes.

We thought it was a great joke. Dave thought he was in hell; a hell he escaped from each evening only to be forced back the next day.

I know this because I met him recently and he told me so - 45 years later, he still feels the pain.

I bumped into him in a cafe. I wouldn't have recognised him except that the mannerisms had not changed.

He's a successful businessman now, running his own firm and that suits him well because, as he said, "nobody laughs at the boss".

For a moment, I was at a loss. Why would anybody laugh?

And then he told me, quite simply, without any great emotion, about the awful time he had endured at school; how he had felt a freak, an outsider, a weirdo wrestling with feelings he didn't understand himself. And how much harm we had done him with words we all thought harmless.

And so I was granted the rare gift of being able to stand in someone else's shoes; to see ourselves as others see us.

It wasn't a pretty sight, but it made one thing abundantly clear: those of us who belong to the great consensus, who are members of the broad church of public opinion, do not understand what it is like to be outside the fold, to be the subject of the jokes and innuendo.

Being inside the fold, I find the demand for gay marriage difficult to understand. At a time when so many heterosexual couples are abandoning the convention of marriage, why are homosexual couples so eager to embrace it?

They can enter into civil partnerships, after all, which give them much the same rights as married couples. What's all the fuss about, I think.

But it really doesn't matter what I think, because the issue of gay marriage should not be determined by the views of those it does not concern. The marriage of two men, or two women, cannot harm me, so why should I stand in their way?

That was the attitude of the 21 councillors whose votes made Belfast City Council the first local authority in Ireland to pass a motion in support of gay marriage.

Unionists disagreed with the motion and most of them left the chamber. DUP Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson stayed to chair the meeting, but accused Sinn Fein and SDLP members of playing "petty politics".

Of course, gay marriage should be above petty politics, but neither is it an issue that should be determined on the whims of personal morality.

It cannot possibly damage those not directly involved and they have no more right to ban it than they have to outlaw adultery, the wearing of short skirts, or any other preference of which they might disapprove.

This law should not be dictated by the opinions of individuals. Those who don't play the game shouldn't try to make the rules.

Lord (Ken) Maginnis would not agree. He sees homosexuality as a deviant practice and recently told radio listeners that legalising gay marriage would be akin to licensing bestiality.

"Does that mean every deviant practice has to be accommodated?'' he asked. "Will the next thing be that we legislate for some sort of bestiality?''

According to Lord Maginnis, the issue "affects my Church ... may affect children".

But it doesn't. No children will be involved, unless the couple wish to adopt, in which case they will be subject to the same strict scrutiny as any other couple.

And no Church will be asked to change its teaching, or practice, to accommodate same-sex marriages. All such unions would be civil marriages and, therefore, not recognised as valid by conservative Christians. So no change there, then.

The issue of gay marriage has also been causing some friction south of the border, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny showing notably less enthusiasm for its legalisation than his coalition partner, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore.

No doubt, Mr Kenny is conscious of opinion in his more conservative Fine Gael party. Lucina Creighton, a junior minister generally regarded as on the liberal wing of Fine Gael, has come out against it, declaring that marriage is "primarily about children". But surely marriage is, first and foremost, about the two people getting married? And, as Eamon Gilmore has said: "It should never be the role of the state to pass judgment on whom a person falls in love with, or whom they want to spend their life with."

England, Scotland and Wales have completed public consultations on the issue of gay marriage. The Scottish government's decision is due later this month.

Will Belfast City Council's motion at least prompt some official consideration of the move in Northern Ireland?

We owe that much at least to Dave, to all the Daves and Doras who live outside the fold.

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