Ireland's "Harvey Milk" says marriage equality fight must go on

22 Jul 2009

By Carla Marinucci

American politicians could take a lesson from Irish Senator David Norris -- a civil rights activist whose lifelong fight for gay rights and status as the first openly gay pol to be elected in Ireland has earned him the comparison as the Emerald Isle's "Harvey Milk."

That's because he's fearless: irreverent, shockingly plain-spoken, enormously witty, eloquent and never at loss for words. And Norris is fabulously quotable on everything from the Catholic church and the Vatican ("deeply sinister") and the current Pope ("appalling"), George Bush, gay marriage, and Britney Spears. Then there's President Obama, and the "don't ask, don't tell'' policy ("It's a pity, and I hope he gets stronger on this issue").

We sat down Monday with Norris for conversation prior to his event Tuesday to benefit the US Ireland Alliance. The Senator, who has a regular talk show on the great Dublin station Irish Newstalk 106 -- where (disclosure here) I'm also a regular political analyst -- speaks at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco from 6-8 p.m.

These days, Norris has plenty to say on San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's actions on marriage equality, and on where that issue is headed in the future. Check it out here.

But the life story of Norris, whose activism on gay rights issues has won him comparison to the late San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk, is compelling indeed: the founder of the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform in Ireland, he first emerged on the issue in a daunting landscape -- as a 21-year-old in the Ireland of the the 1970's.

"I was not going to pushed to the side because I'm gay,'' he said. "We were Irish people. We were gay, and a lot of people thought that was a contradiction in terms....they said, "just stay quiet.'' But I said, "I've kept it quiet long enough.''

In the 1980s, Norris filed a landmark case to decriminalize homosexuality, taking the Irish Attorney General to court. He lost in both the Irish High Court and the Supreme Court, but was not deterred. With Mary Robinston -- later Ireland's President -- as his attorney, the case of Norris v. Ireland eventually would be heard before the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in his favor and changed Irish law forever.

Norris says he expects that fight for marriage equality will go on -- and says that supporters shouldn't be deterred by some, even in the gay community, who suggest it's "not time" to challenge the issue of same sex marriage before the Supreme Court.

Rubbish, he laughs. "I want the whole lot now, with the cream and cherry on top,'' he says. "And an apology.''

Norris will be hosted tonight by a roster of San Francisco politicians, gay rights and business leaders including Supervisors Bevan Dufty and Sean Elsbernd, and former San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery.

Take notes, pols, on how to deliver one helluva stump speech.

Article taken from The San Francisco Chronicle.