Normally when I wake up in the morning, it isn’t entirely an episode of Father Ted and it might not even be completely Monty Python, though at the moment there’s a strong feeling that it might be mostly Game of Thrones.
A man meets a man’s beloved daughter in the market for an early curry.
A man’s daughter goes for intensive hair treatment.
Meanwhile, a man wanders around town, trying not to wear too many faces until a man stumbles across a bunch of lunatics and a man’s mask slips.
Seven magnificent men, or perhaps a man detects six men and a boy, reciting prayers to the old gods and the new before setting out on a dangerous mission. A man salutes them and then a man goes for a coffee, with cream because after all it is a Saturday.
That’s where Game of Thrones evaporates and our Saturday morning becomes very real, as long as you consider utterly bizarre a form of reality.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, here come a bunch of men in cheap business suits wearing sashes made from recycled Munster flags.
Men are wearing red capes across their suits for no clear reason. Six men and a boy are wearing capes. Six cape-wearing men and a boy in a cape are handing out pamphlets against homosexual marriage.
Ah! Now I have you. Marriage should be between a man and a woman from the eighteenth century. That makes perfect sense.
What is this? everyone wonders.
Is this a promotion for today’s clash between Munster and Ulster? Is this a gesture from Munster in favour of gay rights? After all, Munster Rugby facilitated a massive table quiz in support of equality only two days ago.
But then it dawns on us. No self-respecting gay man would wear anything as tacky as these people are wearing, even in support of a cause. I wouldn’t wear it myself, for that matter, and I have the dress sense of a Jack Russell. They must be bigots. The B-word. The word that the homophobic fake institutes would try to prevent everyone from using.
Our hackles rise, perhaps unreasonably until we get talking to them and we discover that yes, they really do hate their fellow man and woman. They really do detest people who don’t fit their template of what constitutes god-given sexuality.
I find myself talking to one of them, who tries to explain that it’s all about the children.
Let’s call him Rory.
I tell Rory it’s not. I tell Rory the referendum is about two people getting married.
Rory tells me marriage is about having children.
I tell him it’s not. I tell him people who can’t have children also get married. Post-menopausal women. Men who have had a vasectomy. People who don’t wish to procreate. I ask him if these marriages are invalid in his eyes.
Rory doesn’t want to know.
I tell him the supreme court has decided a married couple are a family.
He still doesn’t want to to know because this man, as it’s becoming clear, is not interested in facts when he can have his own private fantasy instead.
I ask Rory about the interesting robe he’s wearing and the elaborate clasp he uses to hold it together.
Is that the emblem of an ancient equestrian order? I ask him.
No, he says.
Are you a front for Opus Dei?
Are you the Order of the Holy Sepulchre?
No, he replies.
Then who exactly are you?
That’s when Rory goes off message and tells me something he shouldn’t.
We’re the Irish Society for Tradition, Family and Property.
Are you? I ask. And how long have you existed?
About fifty years, he replies.
Really? Fifty years?
Are you a private company?
Sharon appears, not by magic but by coincidence since this is Limerick, this is the Market and this is how things happen when lunatic fringe groups try to overwhelm the common decency of Limerick people. Sharon has her son Pete with her, raised by two mothers and not obviously suffering from having three horns on his head.
This is my son, Sharon tells Rory. He was raised by two women.
Look at him, Sharon says.
Rory looks at me.
Look at him, I say.
Rory looks at Sharon.
Look at him, says Sharon.
Rory looks at me.
Look at him, I say.
Eventually, Rory looks at Pete. It’s clear that he has never imagined a real, genuine human being raised by a same-sex couple. Rory seems perturbed.
Shake his hand, says Sharon.
Pete appears a little disgusted but he extends his hand and Rory reaches out. This territory seems new to Rory.
Ask him how he is, Sharon says.
Rory says nothing, so Pete explains that he’s just fine, that the two women who raised him did a great job and that he doesn’t understand why Rory is trying to stop his mother being married.
Rory, we all agree later, is the least effective campaigner we ever met. We all agree that Rory is utterly without facts, arguments or even a firm conviction. Everyone is baffled. Why did a man without facts go on a mission to Limerick? Why did he voluntarily get himself eaten alive?
It gets worse for Rory, unfortunately when he engages in an argument over the religious anti-gay pamphlet he and his caped crusaders have been handing out.
Let’s have a look at your ten reasons why gay people shouldn’t get married, Rory is told, by an angry passer-by.
Point 1. It isn’t marriage.
That’s right. It isn’t marriage. We’re voting to make it marriage. Bullshit!
Point 2. It violates natural law.
We have only one law in this republic and it it isn’t your law. Bullshit!
A crowd begins to gather. Rory smiles manfully.
Point 3. It denies a child a mother or a father.
Divorce and separation do that. Not gays. Bullshit.
Point 4. It validates the homosexual lifestyle.
In other words, you hate gays. Bullshit.
Point 5. It turns a moral wrong into a civil right.
Don’t lecture me about morals. Bullshit.
Point 6. It does not create a family but a naturally sterile union.
Are you telling post-menopausal women they can’t get married? Bullshit.
The crowd begins to murmur support.
Point 7. It defeats the State’s purpose of benefitting marriage.
Don’t tell me the State’s purpose. Bullshit.
Point 8. It imposes its acceptance on all society.
You don’t get to veto other people’s lives. Bullshit.
Point 9. It is the cutting edge of the sexual revolution.
Sorry kid. You’ve missed that by about fifty years. Bullshit.
Point 10. It offends God.
I don’t believe in your god so don’t give me this bullshit.
Rory looks at his feet as light applause breaks out. His golden clasp glistens in the weak sun, a lion rampant with papal cross. He declines to explain where the image came from.
Is that the insignia from some equestrian order? I ask.
Are you Opus Dei?
Are you the Knights of the Order of the Sepulchre?
The Knights Who Say Ni?
Never mind. Are you Knights?
Then why are you wearing that ridiculous robe? Don’t you think it’s a bit gay?
Rory doesn’t answer so I challenge him.
Don’t you think gays deserve to suffer like everyone else?
What? he says.
Let them get married, I tell him.
Later I discover that Rory has not been entirely honest with me. The Irish Society for Christian Civilisation, named on the pamphlets he’s handing out, is indeed a limited company registered in Ireland, and the same Rory O’Hanlon is a company director. If, as he claimed, it was over fifty years old, he must have founded it when he was a babe in arms, but actually, the truth is more prosaic. According to company records, it was set up in 2004, and that, to the best of my knowledge, is not fifty years ago. It seems Rory’s Christian beliefs allow him to tell direct barefaced lies.
Oddly, when asked the title of his group, Rory seemed to slip. Instead of calling it the Irish Society for Christian Civilisation, he called it the Irish Society for Defence of Tradition, Family and Property, perhaps unconsciously echoing the title of its parent organisation, the American Society for Defence of Tradition, Family and Property.
Rory, by the way, is a brother of Ardal O’Hanlon, otherwise known as Father Dougal and not a man remotely associated with such strange ideas.
Father Ted comes to Limerick, however vicariously.
As we leave, I tell Rory that I hope this has helped him to re-evaluate his own prejudices, though I don’t have high hopes.
More about Rory