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Gay Irish Pol Back in Presidential Contention, Wins Nomination

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Sep 28, 2011
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An openly gay politician who withdrew from the Irish presidential race due to controversy only to throw his hat into the ring once more has sewn up the support he needs to put his name on the ballot.

David Norris, a popular 24-year member of the Irish senate and a James Joyce scholar, nearly saw his chances torpedoed earlier this year by a pair of scandals. One controversy arose when a journalist resurrected comments that Norris had made to her nine years ago about older men and younger male lovers, remarks that critics leapt on as proof that Norris supported pedophilia.

Norris made the comments in 2002 when he was speaking with restaurant critic Helen Lucy Burke. The interview was published in Magill Magazine. Burke was featured on a radio program earlier this year, where she played up the comments, in which Norris said that as a gay teen he might have benefited from the attention of an older gay man. Media headlines began to refer to the 2002 magazine story as the "pedophilia interview."

"I cannot understand how anybody could find children of either sex in the slightest bit attractive sexually," Norris told the Magill Magazine in 2002, "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 added.

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.

But Norris faced the firestorm, started by the restaurant critic, by stating bluntly that he "never endorsed pedophilia... never endorsed incest," and declared that implications to that effect were the "greatest insults" that could be hurled.

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

"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."

Word began to spread that Norris’ campaign was in jeopardy thanks to the publicity the nine-year-old interview had gained. As in independent candidate, Norris already faced an uphill struggle to secure the support he would need--either a minimum of four local governments, or 20 members of the Irish Parliament.

But polls continued to show that Norris had strong support from the electorate, and Norris himself declared that the scandal was not going to deter him from seeking the nomination.

Then revelations hits the news that Norris had allegedly written a letter urging an Israeli court to treat his former lover, Ezra Nawi, with clemency as Nawi was awaiting trial on a statutory rape charge in 1992. Nawi admitted to having had a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old boy; the age of consent in Israel is 16.

Key members of Norris’ team left just after the news broke, and Norris himself pulled the plug on his campaign on Aug. 2. But the end of Norris’ presidential bid was only temporary; the openly gay politician soon entered the race once more.

Now, the BBC News reported on Sept. 27, Norris has secured the last of the needed endorsements from local governments, with the Dublin City Council officially nominating him.

The deadline for nominations was midday on Sept. 28. Norris joins five other candidates in the contest for the office, which Ireland’s current president, Mary McAleese, will vacate after the end of her second, and final, seven-year term.

The current Irish government took power in February. It includes the first two openly gay members of the Dáil Éireann, or Irish Parliament, Dominic Hannigan and John Lyons. The two openly gay parliamentarians told the media that their sexuality was not much of a factor for voters.

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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