Gay rights campaigners hailed a “historic watershed” for Ireland on Saturday after the country voted in favour of legalizing same-sex marriage.
In the world’s first-ever endorsement of gay marriage via a national referendum, the Republic’s five million population voted “Yes” by a clear majority.
While final results were still being tallied on Saturday night, early counts by mid-afternoon showed a 61 per cent vote in favour and a 38 per cent vote against.
The culmination of what the Yes camp described as a four-decade struggle for equality under the law saw thousands of campaigners celebrate last night in the courtyard of Dublin Castle, many of them waving rainbow flags. The turn-out for the vote was also unexpectedly high at 61 per cent, a figure comparable to national elections.
“The amount of people who came out to vote is just such an emotional thing for us,” said Fred Schelbaum, 48, standing with his civil partner Feargal Scott, 43, who he said he intended to marry.
“Up to now a lot of gay people felt they were tolerated in Ireland. Now we know that it’s much more than that.”
The move, which will give Irish gays the same right accorded last year to their British counterparts, represents a sea-change in social attitudes in a land once seen as one of the most socially conservative in western Europe.
Homosexual acts were only decriminalised in Ireland in 1993, and a vote on divorce in 1994 was only passed by a 51 per cent majority. The vote in favour is yet another blow to the authority of Ireland’s once all-powerful Catholic Church, whose bishops had campaigned against it.