Monnine Griffith (L) and Clodagh Robinson celebrate after early results suggest an overwhelming majority in favor of the referendum on same-sex marriage.(Photo: Aidan Crawley, EPA)
DUBLIN — Ireland was poised Saturday to become the first country to legalize same-sex marriage by national referendum, a vote that has highlighted the dramatic pace at which this traditionally conservative Catholic nation has changed in recent times.
No tallies or results have been officially released yet in the nation, which only decriminalized homosexuality 22 years ago. However, leading figures from both sides said voting patterns signal a major victory for the "Yes" vote.
"We're the first country in the world to enshrine marriage equality in our constitution and do so by popular mandate," Leo Varadkar, Ireland's health minister, told state-broadcaster RTÉ before the results were declared. "That makes us a beacon, a light to the rest of the world of liberty and equality. It's a very proud day to be Irish," he said.
David Quinn, the director of the conservative Iona Institute, a leading figure behind the "No" campaign, tweeted: "Congratulations to the 'Yes' side. Well done. #MarRef." Quinn told USA TODAY on Friday that the movement to secure equal marriage rights for same-same couples in Ireland appeared to be insurmountable.
Even before the final results were delivered Saturday, messages from the measure's supporters near and far flowed in.
"Sitting here watching the Irish make history. Extraordinary and wonderful," the celebrated Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling wrote in a tweet sent from Glasgow. The Scottish city is one of the principal remaining seats of Roman Catholicism in the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). Many there are descendants of Irish immigrants.
Sitting here watching the Irish make history. Extraordinary and wonderful.
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) May 23, 2015
"This is a joyous day for Ireland and for LGBT people and our allies everywhere," Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, a U.S.-based gay-advocacy group, said in a statement. "With this historic vote, Ireland becomes a leader in the global effort for LGBT equality."
Emily Neenan, a physics student at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, was holding a large rainbow-colored umbrella in the forecourt at Dublin Castle, where "Yes" supporters were gathering to celebrate an expected win.
"I am absolutely thrilled and I didn't think it would pass with such a resounding yes," she said. "Even in more traditional rural areas it looks like we have done a lot better than we thought we would."
On an unseasonably warm and sunny day in Ireland, Neenan was eating ice cream. As she spoke, an occasional cheer rose up from the crowd as several of the Irish politicians who spearheaded the "Yes" campaign passed close by on their way to be interviewed by Ireland's domestic broadcasters.
"You know, it's about time Ireland did this," she said. "It's time Irish society better understands what it looks like, and needs."
Electoral officers reported an unusually high number of people showing up for Friday's vote. National turnout may top 60%. Campaigners on both sides believe this high turnout, buoyed by strong engagement from younger members of the electorate as well as the many Irish expatriates who returned home to cast their votes, contributed to the "Yes" result.
Around 3.2 million people were eligible to be asked whether they were in favor of amending Ireland's constitution to say that "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex."
For months, polls have indicated that the majority of Irish voters agreed with that sentiment. But in the days leading up to the vote, Ireland's government — which supports the measure — warned that attitudes may have been hardening and that victory was far from certain.
Ireland's gay marriage vote: 5 things to know
Varadkar, who revealed he was gay during the referendum campaign, told The Irish Times late Friday after polls closed that he was "quietly confident but almost afraid to believe it in case it goes the wrong way."
Quinn said that a high turnout in urban areas would almost certainly mean the "Yes" side would prevail but that higher numbers in rural areas, where the views of voters tend to reflect long-established Catholic values, would benefit his side.
The referendum is seen as an especially complex one for Ireland, where about 85% of the population still identify as Roman Catholic even though church attendance has been steadily declining for a few decades. The church's moral authority has also been questioned in the wake of a series of sexual abuse scandals and cover-ups involving children.
The country has been slow to follow a path of social liberalization that has taken root across Europe. Except in cases where a mother's life is perceived to be in danger, abortion is still illegal in Ireland. A prohibition on divorce was only repealed in 1996 following a national referendum.
Around the world, 18 countries have approved gay marriage nationwide, the majority of them in Europe. Others, such as the United States and Mexico, have approved it in certain regions. In the United States, 37 states have approved gay marriage and the Supreme Court is currently weighing the issue.
Visitors to St. Patrick's Cathedral — founded in 1191 to honor Ireland's patron saint — in central Dublin on Saturday afternoon appeared mostly wrapped up in their appreciation of the building's impressive stonewall facades.
"It is good that Ireland is approving this legislation," said Michael Lendhofer, a tourist visiting from Hannover, in northwestern Germany.
"But I also that there are some things about the gay community that I don't agree with. For example, I think they should be more private," he said, without elaborating.
Campaigner: Irish gay marriage vote may pave way for abortion rights
Powered By WizardRSS.com | Full Text RSS Feed