By Brian Pelan, VIEW editor
Equality campaign: Same-sex couple Michael Conlon and Gerard O’Donnell tell VIEW why they believe Northern Ireland needs to hold a referendum on same-sex marriage following the vote to allow it in the Republic of Ireland
In 2015, Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland programme director, said at a rally in Belfast: “We are all here today because of a simple idea: all people are equal. The state should treat all people equally.”
The rally was organised following a referendum in the Republic of Ireland in 2015 which delivered a resounding Yes vote to allow same-sex marriage.
A total of 1,201,607 people (62 percent) voted Yes and 734,300 (37.9 percent) voted No.
Same sex couple Gerard O’Donnell and Michael Conlon, who live in Belfast, told VIEW why they believed that they should have the same marriage rights as those who live in the Republic.
“I don’t believe anybody should tell you who you can or can’t love for the rest of your life,” said Gerard.
He and Michael have now held three ceremonies to celebrate their love and commitment to each other.
They were married in a civil partnership ceremony in Belfast; that was followed by a huge celebration at a castle in the Republic in which a pagan witch presided over the event. And finally, they were married in Dublin in 2016.
“Those rights should be awarded to everyone, and you shouldn’t have to cross the border to get married,” said Michael
Gerard said: “We met in Dublin about 10 years ago. I’m a photographer and a videographer.”
Michael is the CEO of a community development organisation in Dublin and commutes from Belfast.
The couple recently decided to move back to Belfast.
“I think it’s disappointing that when you move back that your marriage is reduced back to a civil partnership again,” said Michael.
“Marriage is normal. It should be normalised. It shouldn’t be even up for a discussion anymore. If Catholic Ireland can trust their electorate and put it to a public vote, then why shouldn’t Northern Ireland put it to a public vote?” Michael said he had witnessed signs of change happening in Northern Ireland. “The big change that I have noticed when we started looking for a house in Belfast was that a lot of our friends who had grown up in Catholic areas had started to live in what were perceived as Protestant or unionist areas. There is a bit more of a flexibility now in terms of where you can live.
“When we campaigned in the Republic and knocked doors and told voters about the personal relationship with the person you loved, you saw something change in their minds, and some of them probably were still a No vote, but it made them think.
“A friend of ours had to explain to her eight-year-old child what the marriage equality referendum was about. He was upset that we weren’t legally married. He thought we were a normal married couple and couldn’t get his head around why people had to vote after seeing me on Sky News. We felt this was a real sign of a change in attitudes that happened during the campaign.”
Gerard added: “Our lives are completely like every other married couple, I can’t see a difference between us and a straight couple at all. There is no difference. Only the fact that they can get married here, and they can adopt and we can’t.”
• To see the online version of our equality issue of VIEW, go to http://eepurl.com/cDo47P