By Mark Campbell
y mother's side of the family came to North America mostly from Ireland during the potato famine of the 1840s. I suspect they landed in New York and eventually found their way to Canada. When I take a look in the mirror, I can see my Irish genes.
But growing up, I knew little about the Irish. Marketing associated them with luck and freshness — the Lucky Charms leprechaun sold breakfast cereal on TV (I always preferred Cap'n Crunch) and in Irish Spring deodorant commercials an Irish lass told "Sean" his arm pits smelled as fresh as, you guessed it, an Irish springtime.
In my final year of high school, after many a night spent singing traditional Irish songs in an Irish Pub in Kingston Ontario, I also learned that the Irish were very musical. That said, I never really connected with U2. Like many other gay people, I saw classic rock as a basement rec-room genre focused on white heterosexual males.
In my mid-20s, standing in line with my Guatemalan then-boyfriend outside a club in South Beach Miami, a guy with red hair, freckles and skin (he looked like he'd just crawled out of the lobster pot) told me, in an Irish accent, "Man it's hard to look like us amongst all these bronze gods, isn't it?" Suddenly, I felt genetically self-conscious. I asked myself, Are gorgeous green eyes and an adorably perky little nose sufficient compensation for pasty white skin, red hair and freckles?
The advent of cheap flights has made Ireland is just a hop, skip and jump away from Milan. But every time Alberto and I discussed our options for a little Irish get-away we always felt we'd be straying outside our gay comfort zone. Until recently, New York's famed St. Patrick's Day Parade banned LGBT groups from even participating.
Yet the Irish have just done something truly amazing, placing themselves in "The Advances for Human Rights Record Book." In May, they became the first country in the world to approve same-sex marriage based on a public referendum, with many Irish postponing their vacations or returning home to vote. This not only represents an enormous social and political change but it speaks to the very character of the Irish people themselves.
As you might imagine, the Vatican was neither thrilled nor charitable. Though Pope Francis has struck a more sympathetic tone towards homosexuals, giving liberal Catholic hope ("If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?"), his past is less pretty. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he fought hard and unsuccessfully to block Argentina from becoming the first country in South America to legalize gay marriage. More recently, Pope Francis met Laurent Stefanini, France's proposed ambassador to the Vatican, and told him face-to-face that the appointment would be rejected because he's gay. So much for the kinder, gentler Vatican.
Responding to the landmark Irish vote, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state and the pope's top lieutenant called the success of the referendum a "defeat for humanity."
That left me speechless.
The Irish clergy responded through Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, who insisted the Catholic Church needed "do a reality check across the board," since its message clearly wasn't reaching young people.
But maybe it's just the opposite. Maybe young people have understood the Church's message all too well and have decided to reject the bigotry and hate campaign spread by the boys in Vatican City. If so, I'm glad. As for Cardinal Parolin, all I can come up with is, "Hey Pietro, kiss me. I'm Irish!"
On Italy's secular side, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi claims his government intends to present legislation that would allow civil unions between gay couples, though there are no plans to allow full marriage. I'm not holding my breath.
In the meantime, Alberto and I are making plans to visit Ireland. I want to learn more about my wonderful folk. Even if my Irish claim is based on a centuries-old ancestral gene pool, I've never been prouder of it.
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