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Openly Gay Irish Presidential Hopeful Caught in ’Pedophilia’ Flap

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Jun 1, 2011
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The Irish politician who had set his sights on being the first openly gay man to attain the presidency of that nation is now embroiled in a scandal over an interview from nine years ago in which he addressed the ancient Greek tradition of older men engaging in sexual relationships with much younger men.

David Norris, a member of the Irish Senate for 24 years, officially set out to become the first openly gay president on March 21. The current Irish President is Mary McAleese, the second woman to hold the office. McAleese is now serving her second, and final, seven-year term.

Norris is an "unaffiliated candidate," which means that he will have a harder time even registering as a candidate. If he were affiliated with a party, the article indicated, he would have an easier time gaining the twenty nominations he needs from the country’s parliamentarians. His alternative is to seek four nominations from local governments called country councils.

"I don’t have a party machine," the would-be presidential candidate told the Irish media in March. "At the moment, I am an independent. This, I believe, is a plus."

There are 14 independent members of Parliament currently serving in the new Irish government, which took power in February after the most recent elections.

The new Irish government includes the first two openly gay members of the Dáil Éireann, or Irish Parliament, Dominic Hannigan and John Lyons. The two openly gay parliamentarians also said that their sexuality was not a decisive factor for voters, or much of a factor at all.

A poll conducted last year showed Norris ahead of the expected competition. Norris took 20% of the poll, putting him ahead of the next-most favored expected nominee by 12%, a Sept. 25, 2010, Irish Central article reported.

But that lead is in danger of evaporating in the wake of the interview’s re-publication. Norris’ comments on "classic pedophilia" were made to Irish magazine Magill in 2002, reported British newspaper the Guardian in a May 31 article. Norris was careful to note that he has no sexual interest in children personally, but he also said that he might have benefited personally if, when he was a younger man coming into his own, an older gay man had taken an interest in him.

"I cannot understand how anybody could find children of either sex in the slightest bit attractive sexually," Norris told the magazine, "but in terms of classic pedophilia, as practiced by the Greeks, for example, where it is an older man introducing a younger man to adult life, there can be something said for it. Now, again, this is not something that appeals to me.

"Although, when I was younger, I would have greatly relished the prospect of an older, attractive, mature man taking me under his wing, lovingly introducing me to sexual realities, treating me with affection, teaching me about life," Norris went on to add.

The interview has emerged once more as Norris prepares for a presidential bid, and may very well destroy his chances of securing a nomination, the Guardian article said. Norris himself has said that the interview coming to light now is part of an attempt to discredit him by taking inflammatory remarks out of the context in which they were originally offered.

The Guardian reported that Norris issued a statement in which he said that his remarks were part of "an academic discussion about classical Greece and sexual activity in a historical context.

"It was a hypothetical, intellectual conversation which should not have been seen as a considered representation of my views on some of the issues discussed over dinner," Norris’s statement continued. "People should judge me on my record and actions as a public servant, over the last 35 years and on the causes and campaigns, for which I have fought, and not on an academic conversation with a journalist over dinner. I did not ever and would not approve of the finished article as it appeared."

The Guardian article said that the journalist in question, Helen Lucy Burke, had spoken up in defense of the interview, and claimed to have allowed Norris to suggest changes to the article prior to its publication.

A Wikipedia article on the topic of relations between older and younger men in antiquity notes that typically the younger male was in his teens. "It was characteristic of the Archaic and Classical periods," the article states. "Some scholars locate its origin in initiation ritual, particularly rites of passage on Crete, where it was associated with entrance into military life and the religion of Zeus."

Anti-gay activists frequently smear the GLBT equality movement and its leaders with accusations that pro-equality advocates seek to promote incest, pedophilia, bestiality, and other sexual deviance.

Norris stated bluntly that he "never endorsed pedophilia, I never endorsed incest," and declared that implications to that effect were the "greatest insults" that could be hurled, reported Irish newspaper the Independent on June 1.

Burke, who says that she has been supportive of Norris’ efforts for GLBT equality in Ireland, stated that the politician should not become the next Irish president, the independent article said.

"Anyone who endorses sex between parents and children is not a suitable person for the presidency," Burke said. "We would be the laughing stock and the disgust of Europe" were Norris to be elected, she added.

"I was foolish to engage in an academic discussion about ancient Greece with a restaurant critic," Norris told the media. "I am devastated for my supporters and I want them to know what kind of person I am."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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