Irish voters will go to the polls on Friday, May 22nd, to decide if the country's constitution should be changed so that same-sex couples can legally marry. All of the major political parties support a yes vote and opinion polls at the moment forecast a yes victory. Many voters will have their LGBT family and friends in mind when they cast their ballots. I'm confident that my Irish relatives will be among them, but also wonder if at least one yes vote among the family occurred before any of us even realized.
Eleven years ago, my husband phoned his mother in Ireland to tell her about our plans to get married in Toronto. He was more than a little nervous. She had always been quite supportive of our relationship, but it was 2004 and marriage was still a pretty new thing among same-sex couples. The conversation went fine and then she briefly paused and asked again what date we planned on being married.
By way of background, nearly every Sunday since we met more than twenty years ago, my husband phones his mother. There's a pattern to the calls. They usually start with some discussion of the weather, a catch up on Irish news, and occasionally a little local and family gossip. Eventually, they always get to a weekly rundown of who died, who's sick, and why.
When his mother asked about our wedding date, my husband momentarily panicked thinking the question may be related to one of those "who died" rundowns. His mind raced trying to remember if some awful thing had happened on May 15 that would cast a pall over our pending nuptials.
She then reminded him that the date was Gogi's anniversary. Gogi was the name he and his cousins called his beloved grandmother who, it turns out, had passed away on the date that we planned to marry. "Well, you were always a favorite of Gogi's, so I suppose that means she'll be looking out for you."
Gogi's story is one of family legend. Born in the tiny village of Boleyard in County Mayo, she emigrated to the United States in 1926 and worked as what we would now call a personal assistant for several prominent families in St. Louis. The contrast between her upbringing in rural Ireland and American industrial wealth in the roaring twenties must have been jarring.
In 1932, she traveled to Dublin to attend the Eucharistic Congress. She went home to Mayo for her first visit home in six years, fell in love, and decided to stay. She married, raised a family, and had lots of grandchildren. They loved to hear her tell the stories of her American adventure, the rare Irish emigrant who returned home. Gogi was kind, loving, and just a little exotic.
On our wedding day in Toronto City Hall, we arrived to be greeted by our officiant, Patricia O'Reilly. Patricia was assigned to us by the luck of the draw, or so she said. As she talked through the logistics of the ceremony, she noticed my husband's accent and asked him where he was from. He told her Washington, DC and she replied, "No, where are you really from?" They talked about his home in Ireland and he asked her the same question. The answer brought a big gulp to our throats. Patricia was born in County Mayo, only a few miles from Boleyard. Maybe Gogi really was looking out for us.
As we celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary and head to Ireland next week to, fingers crossed, also celebrate the first country to approve marriage equality through a national vote, I find myself thinking about Gogi a lot. Her decision to leave the modern comforts of America to return to a much more austere life in rural Ireland in the 1930s showed her to be a person who placed very high value on her love of family and country.
Eleven years ago, in Toronto, that love of family may explain why my husband and I heard her voice so clearly as a supportive witness to our marriage. I like to imagine that, since then, Gogi's been whispering in a few ears of her beloved family and of her countrymen and women. "Yes, yes, yes."