Opinion: Rachel Mathews McKay on Marriage


In the year since same-sex marriage was legalised in Ireland, have we moved on so much that we’ve left centuries of internalised homophobia behind?

I always cry at weddings, I’m such a softie when it comes to the expression of love. But unlike a lot of other thirtysomethings who seem to go to an extraordinary number of weddings, I don’t get invited to that many on account of having a circle of friends who are either already hitched, currently single, or are perfectly satisfied in their relationship arrangements (for now anyway).

So the weddings I do go to feel extra special to me. I love the flowers, the music, dressing up, catching up with friends and family, and I’m mad for the party – wedding discos are my absolute favourite with the familiar music and the ecstatic feeling of shared communal joy.

What really gets me, though, and this is where the tissues come out and the make-up runs, is the moment the vows, pledges, exchanges of commitment, or whatever else people are calling them these days, happen. Whether I’ve had the honour of knowing the couple for long or not, I can just imagine all the twists, turns, negotiations and stories that have brought them to this moment of ultimate deal-clenching. I love that despite all the odds of probability they have found solace, hope, friendship, fun and connection in one another.

Of course the reality of real life, on either side of anyone’s big day, is that such love and commitment requires hard work, negotiations and most importantly of all open and honest communication – which is sadly not always sustainable. But whether the marriage lasts or not, I personally love the very idea of gathering one’s peers and important ones in celebration of a match well-made. I love that we are invited and given the chance to celebrate a couple’s hope for a life of love, desire and mutual respect.

The other reality is that for a lot of us we don’t, and perhaps won’t, get to be one of the two at the centre of all this, or we’ll choose not to be. Just because we won the right to choose to marry doesn’t mean we have to, and now that we do have marriage I’d be really interested to know how people are really feeling about their intimate relationships in general.

For most of us the conversations about our hopes and dreams we had during the marriage referendum were hypothetical, but now that the law includes us and same-sex marriage has been normalised, how are we feeling? Is there a pressure to conform? Is there pressure to go for it, just because we can now?

A year has passed since civil marriage legislation was ratified to include us and our same-sex relationships, but has that undone all the negative feelings we had previously? A lot of us developed and lived with a certain kind of internalised homophobia, embracing and accepting our difference, but at the same time duped into thinking we weren’t worthy of being treated equally. Maybe like me as a child, you listened to the fairytales where the prince and princess ended up living happily ever after and felt at odds with how it matched with your own dreams.

I know I listened with an ache in my heart, imagining such make-believe could never be my reality. But I wanted that happy ending. I day-dreamed about my perfect wedding to the person of my heart’s desire, surrounded by all my loved ones, and it hurt like hell to come to the understanding that I wasn’t welcome to celebrate such a union the way the fairytale heroes did.

I had hard conversations with the members of my family who intended on voting No in the referendum, and did. Where does this leave me and any of us who still face these oppositional, discriminatory people in our lives, despite the overwhelming public and legislative support? And even if we don’t face opposition or discrimination, have we healed past hurts enough to be emotionally ready for marriage? Was the winning result in May 2015 the ‘kiss better’ we needed for years of hurtful exclusion?

I won’t really mind if there are gaps in my guestlist of the people who couldn’t bring themselves to join in my celebrations, if and when I do get married. My partner and I are still getting to know each other better and so no plans are being made just yet, but if we do walk up the aisle, we’ll only be inviting people who stand with us, and are happy for us. I want it be a splendid occasion of shared values and shared hopes for a life well lived.

Part of any good relationship is the sharing of the personal difficulties that arise from internalised homophobia. And even if we don’t get married, we have to recognise that deep wounds take time to heal, that they can’t heal overnight.

While society seems to accept us, we still need to be gentle with ourselves, remembering that Rome was not built in a day.

© 2016 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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