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Irish set to say ‘Yes’ to gay marriage in world first

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gay marriage. PHOTO: startribune.com

gay marriage. PHOTO: startribune.com

Ireland looked set on Saturday to become the first country in the world to approve gay marriage by popular vote as crowds cheered in the streets of Dublin in anticipation of the spectacular setback for the once all-powerful Catholic Church.

Government ministers said early results showed a clear victory for the “Yes” vote, while a leading “No” campaigner conceded defeat ahead of an announcement of final results expected later.

Early results at 1430 GMT showed 61 percent voting in favour and 38 percent against as hundreds of cheering “Yes” supporters started celebrations early, waving rainbow flags on the grounds of Dublin Castle.

“It’s an amazing day to be Irish!” said Rory O’Neill or “Panti Bliss”, Ireland’s foremost drag queen and a leading “Yes” campaigner, as she arrived at the party wearing a figure-hugging dress and high heels.

Outside the main counting centre in Dublin, Grainne O’Grady, 44, and Pauline Tracey, 53, said the plan was to “celebrate, celebrate, celebrate.”

“I’m just so happy I could burst. We were voting on whether we were equal in our own country,” said O’Grady, wearing a “Yes Equality” T-shirt.

Legalising gay marriage would be a seismic change in Ireland, where the Church remains a powerful force, homosexuality was illegal until 1993 and abortion is banned except where the mother’s life is in danger.

“It’s a very historic day,” Deputy Prime Minister Joan Burton told AFP at the counting centre.

“People in Ireland have gone out and voted in their tens of thousands and they voted for a more inclusive, more caring, more democratic country.”

Colm O’Gorman, director of the human rights watchdog Amnesty International Ireland, said the expected result showed that “hope springs eternal”.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar, who became Ireland’s first openly gay cabinet minister when he came out this year and is tipped as a future leader, said the “Yes” campaign had been a “social revolution”.

“We’re the first country in the world to vote for marriage equality by popular vote and to enshrine it in our constitution,” he told national broadcaster RTE.

One of the most prominent campaigners against gay marriage, David Quinn, said early tallies indicated that those in favour of gay marriage had secured a victory “roughly in the region of two to one”.

Quinn added on RTE that it was it was “obviously a very impressive victory for the ‘Yes’ side”.

– Irish celebrities back ‘Yes’ –

The referendum has pitched traditionalists including the Catholic Church against those in favour of gay marriage, including Ireland’s Prime Minister Enda Kenny, a Catholic who told voters there was “nothing to fear” in a televised message on Wednesday night.

All Ireland’s main political parties supported amending the constitutional definition of marriage.

A string of Irish celebrities have also backed the “Yes” campaign including singers Bono and Sinead O’Connor plus actor Colin Farrell.

The Catholic Church campaigned strongly for a “No” vote, insisting marriage can only involve a man and woman, drawing support from many older voters.

The majority of Irish people identify themselves as Catholic, but the Church’s influence has waned in recent years amid growing secularisation and after a wave of child sex abuse scandals.

Around 3.2 million people were eligible to vote in Friday’s referendum, and early results showed turnout was around 61 percent — higher than in previous referendums.

The issue has drawn intense interest on social media under the hashtag #MarRef and was the second most popular trending subject on Twitter Saturday.

Many young Irish voters had been posting selfies of themselves returning from overseas by plane and ferry to vote in favour of gay marriage.

– Rainbow flags and necklaces –

If the move is approved, Ireland would be the 19th country in the world to legalise gay marriage, and the 14th in Europe.

Parliament would first have to pass specific legislation and is expected to draw up the bill this week. The first same-sex weddings could then take place in Ireland towards the end of the year.

If the move is approved, Ireland would be the 19th country in the world to legalise gay marriage, and the 14th in Europe.

Across the border in Northern Ireland, gay marriage is banned even though it is legal in the rest of the United Kingdom.

The prospect of the historic shift brought up raw emotions at the gathering in Dublin Castle, the historic, ceremonial former centre of British power in Ireland.

Karen Brady, 27, flew home to Ireland from Vancouver in Canada for the referendum.

“I voted with my parents — it was such a memorable and moving moment,” she said.

“I was nearly in tears because a few years ago, Ireland was not like that and my parents would not have accepted me. But Ireland has changed.”


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