Thirteen years ago, Padraic Whyte did one of the hardest things he has ever had to do: He told his Roman Catholic parents living in rural Ireland that he was gay.
He had waited until he was completely comfortable with himself and his decision. “I knew deep down that they would love me no matter what,” he said.
And he was right. His parents not only embraced him and his decision, they went to church the next day to celebrate.
“They decided to see it as a blessing,” said Whyte, 36.
More than a decade later, Ireland held a referendum Friday on same-sex marriage in the country. Whyte has been active in the campaign to pass the referendum, and he asked his parents, now in their 70s, to help.
“People of our generation who supported equal rights weren’t being heard,” said his mother, Brighid, 77, from her and her husband’s home in Dundalk, about a mile from the border with Northern Ireland.
The couple made a short video to encourage people to vote yes in the referendum. It is not sophisticated — Brighid and her husband, Paddy, 79, sit on a couch together, reading their lines back and forth. But the video, which was published in March and part of a video campaign called Vote With Us, has since appeared on multiple sites and has been viewed more than 1 million times. Brighid and Paddy went viral.
The popularity of the video appears to be one indicator of the unexpectedly robust public support for gay marriage that led Ireland, a Catholic country, to become the first nation to legalize gay marriage by popular vote.
Proponents of same-sex marriage in Ireland have promoted the cause as pro-family, and the video attests to how full acceptance of gay marriage can support an entire family. In a sense, it promoted one traditional Catholic value, the importance of family, against a long-standing Catholic prohibition against homosexuality.
Brighid and Paddy Whyte, who will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in September, said they were overwhelmed by the support they got after making the video, including from middle-aged and older people. A local newspaper also published a story about them on its front page.
The couple said the video and its response had caused people in their community to talk much more openly about their own gay children or other relatives.
Their son Padraic, who is the youngest of their five children and works as an English professor at Trinity College Dublin, said the conversations happening around the video on a local level mirrored those happening around the referendum and homosexuality nationally.
“People are having conversations with their families that they’ve never had before. It’s given people the confidence and the courage to do that,” Padraic Whyte said as he sat with his parents in their kitchen Friday. “This is something that has never happened in Ireland before.”
The couple continue to practice Catholicism, and they said they made the video not in spite of their religion, but because of it.
“We are Catholics, and we are taught to believe in compassion and love and fairness and inclusion,” Paddy Whyte said. “Equality, that’s all we’re voting for.”
Brighid Whyte added that her gay son and religious beliefs weren’t her only reasons for making the video.
“I must tell you,” she said. “I have 11 beautiful grandchildren. So that’s another reason: I want to make a better place for them.”