Last week President Barack Obama endorsed the right of same sex couples in loving relations to get married, and reaction to the news in the Irish community has predictably divided along political lines.
New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who will marry her longtime partner Kim Catullo in the city on Saturday, May 19 told the press that the president’s endorsement was “historic” and “a game-changer that made gay, lesbian and transgender people stand a little taller.”
In a television interview with Fox News, Irish American Quinn said that when she and Catullo “walk down that aisle, it’s going to feel like the president is supporting us and that is an amazing feeling.
“To feel that you’re not just supported by your city, you’re not just supported by your state, you’re actually supported by the president of the United States… it’s a feeling of support and affirmation and equality that just wasn't there before the president said this.”
Well-known Irish gay activist Brendan Fay, who first married his partner Tom Molton in Canada when same sex unions became legal there in 2005, told the Irish Voice he was also delighted and moved by Obama’s endorsement.
“Within one hour of the statement going public I started hearing from friends and activists in Ireland, India and Europe,” Fay confessed.
“It’s on the front page of every newspaper across the world. My great hope is that his call for marriage equality translates soon into legislative change in the United States. We need to see an end to the discrimination in law.”
Fay, a native of Drogheda, Co. Louth, says the president’s message of support will reach into the hearts of gay youth, many of whom continue to be bullied and harassed in the nation’s schools and churches.
“In the way a previous generation talk about Kennedy visiting Ireland or Neil Armstrong landing on the moon, to me I will always think of this as a watershed moment as I sat at my desk and watched the news break. This is not just news, this is a historic event with major implications,” Fay added.
Jeff Cleary, the national co-chair of the Irish American Republicans group, was unimpressed with the president’s stance.
“It was hardly a surprise. This idea he was evolving on the issue is a little silly. Anyone with any political acumen could see this coming from a mile away,” Cleary told the Irish Voice.
“He didn’t do this four years ago because he wouldn’t have gotten the nomination. Fast forward now and he’s in the re-election mode, and he had to do it.”
Cleary sees political calculation, not political courage, as the motivating factor in Obama’s announcement.
“I don’t see courage in it. It was natural for him to do it, it was politically expedient. I certainly would never tie the word courage to it,” he said.
“Social conservatives were never going to vote for him. Overall it probably helps him with his base.”
Cleary supports civil unions that grant gay couples the same rights and entitlements of marriage, putting him at odds with the presumptive GOP nominee Romney, who neither supports gay marriage or civil unions.
Cleary says his position on the issue coheres with his own libertarian belief that the government should stay out of people’s lives.
“My own view is I support civil unions. I think gay couples should have every right that a heterosexual couple has in terms of making legal documents and visiting hospitals and making wills,” explained Cleary.
“I’ve lobbied on immigration issues and I could care less what one’s sexual orientation is. A human being is a human being and is entitled to the dignity and rights that every human being should enjoy,” Cleary said.
As a practicing Catholic Cleary added that he sees no conflict between his religious faith and his belief that gay couples should be afforded the same rights and legal protections of heterosexual couples.
Said Cleary, “I’m a Roman Catholic. I respect the teachings of my church. I’m a father and I believe if my son does not get married in the Catholic Church that he’s not really married.
“But I also believe that every American should be treated with dignity and respect and should be treated equally. That’s why I believe in civil unions. Gay people should enjoy the legal rights that heterosexuals have. When you come down to it we’re arguing over a word.”
Fay says that he was astonished by how far and wide the president’s announcement travelled within hours of his speaking out.
“I received calls from my sisters and nephews in Drogheda,” says Fay with a laugh. “They don’t read newspapers or blogs or and aren’t glued to CNN. But somehow President Obama’s statement reached the housing estates of Drogheda.
“They wrote to me, ‘Brendan, it was a great day for yis’ wasn’t it?’ So the message has gotten out. It’s a huge moment. It’s not before time.”