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Ireland becomes first nation to legalize same-sex marriage through popular vote

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DUBLIN, Ireland — Same-sex couples will soon be able to walk down the aisle in the Emerald Isle.

Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage through a popular vote on Saturday — and what a popular vote “yes” was in the landmark referendum that will change the nation’s constitution.

With votes tallied from nearly all of Ireland’s 43 parliamentary constituencies, the measure will sail through with more than 60% of voters approving, according to official results.

Roscommon-South Leitrim, a rural section in the middle of the country, was the lone constituency not to approve the measure.

More than 1.8 million Irish voters participated in the election, about 60% percent of the total electorate in the majority Catholic nation.

There was speculation that opposition to the measure might have been understated in the run-up to the poll because, amid the heated debate, people have been shy of saying they plan to vote “no.”

But once the votes began to be tallied, the result never appeared to be in doubt. Leading figures for the “no” campaign conceded defeat several hours before public service broadcaster RTE made it official

David Quinn — a director of the Iona Institute, a conservative Catholic think tank that advocated against legalizing same-sex marriage tweeted, “Congratulations to the Yes side. Well done. #MarRef.”

A news release from the Iona Institute also paid tribute to the “yes” campaign’s “handsome victory,” while thanking all the thousands of people who campaigned on the “no” side.

Another prominent opponent of same-sex marriage, the group Mothers and Fathers Matter, also congratulated the “yes” campaign on a win, saying: “This is their day, and they should enjoy it.”

The group’s statement said it had stepped up on behalf of a large proportion of the population whose voice was not being represented by Ireland’s politicians, state institutions or the media.

“We are proud to have fought on behalf of those voices when nobody else would,” it said.

“Though at times this campaign was unpleasant for people on all sides, nobody who involves themselves in a campaign does so with anything but the good of their country at heart. There is no better way to resolve difference than the way we are using today.”

Ireland’s political parties all backed the “yes” campaign.

Deputy Prime Minister (or Tanaiste) Joan Burton said the anticipated “yes” vote was Ireland’s “rainbow moment.”

While the final result is yet to be declared, she said, the scale of the “yes” vote was a “powerful message” to send to the world.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said it would be “a huge day for equality” when the result is confirmed.

Civil marriage now permitted for gay, lesbian couples

As in many other countries around the world, the issue is a polarizing one. And the referendum is being seen as a test of whether in Ireland, a majority Catholic nation, more liberal thinking can trump conservative, traditional leanings.

Opinion polls before the vote suggested that the “yes” vote was on track to come out on top, but that the gap was narrowing.

If the referendum is passed, a change to the constitution will give gay and lesbian couples the right to civil marriage, but not to be wed in a church.

Prime Minister Enda Kenny said this week that the country could “create history” and that a “yes” vote would “obliterate” prejudice along with irrational fears of difference.

Varadkar, who earlier this year announced he is gay, also told RTE that Ireland today is “a beacon, a light to the rest of the world for tolerance and equality.”

And Michael Barron, founding director of activist group BeLonGTo, said: “We’ve changed forever what it means to grow up LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) in Ireland. The Irish people, via the ballot box, have today given each and every gay child and young person in Ireland — and across the world — a strong and powerful message that they are loved, they are cared for, and don’t need to change who they are.”

Only 22 years have passed since Ireland decriminalized homosexuality.

Opposition to the constitutional change was largely organized by Catholic groups that focused on a message of protecting the traditional family.

The referendum has been a social media sensation, with many quick to welcome the win for the “yes” campaign.

Among them was Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who tweeted, “Sitting here watching the Irish make history. Extraordinary and wonderful.”

David Cochrane, social/communities editor at the Irish Times, tweeted, “Ireland the first country in the world to have marriage equality by popular vote. Serious history being made.”

Many Irish people who returned from abroad to vote Friday in favor of same-sex marriage also joyfully told the world about it using the #HometoVote hashtag.

“Seeing the amount of people here in the airport who are #hometovote has me in floods!” tweeted one woman. “I feel very proud to be Irish right now.”

Over the border in Northern Ireland, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, of Sinn Fein, welcomed the expected result, saying, “The world is moving on and Ireland is taking the lead. Pride in Ireland has taken on a whole new meaning.”

Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom not to have made same-sex marriage legal. The issue came to the forefront there this week, when a bakery lost a high-profile discrimination case after refusing to bake a cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage.

“Politicians, particularly in the north need to reflect on this progress,” McGuinness said of Ireland’s vote.

‘About civil marriage equality’

Ireland’s “Yes” campaign was spearheaded by an umbrella group called Yes Equality, established by gay rights campaign groups with the backing of civic society organizations and grassroots campaigners across the country.

The right to civil partnership for same-sex couples in Ireland was introduced in 2010. But on its website, Yes Equality argues that it differs significantly from marriage in the level of recognition and protection it affords to same-sex couples and their families.

The outcome of the referendum has no bearing on surrogacy or adoption rights, it says.

The new marriage laws also do not represent any threat to religious freedom, according to Yes Equality.

“The referendum is about civil marriage equality,” the group says. “Churches will be able to continue with religious ceremonies and will not be required to conduct wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples.”

The message of equality apparently resonated with many voters.

One, 46-year-old Tim Mudie, from Dublin, told CNN on Friday, “I voted yes. It’s outrageous that my gay and lesbian friends are not able to do what they want to do.”

Called a threat to religious freedom

A video produced by one group opposed to the change, Mandate for Marriage, argues that “redefining marriage” is a global threat to religious freedom pushed by “homosexual activists” and has been rejected by voters elsewhere, including some states in the United States.

That group’s video also posits that redefining marriage is bad for parents and children.

“Without exception, every child reared by a same-sex couple is denied either a father or a mother,” the video’s narrator states.

Speaking to CNN on the eve of the poll, Joanna Jordan, of Dublin, told CNN that concern for the family unit was why she planned to vote against the constitutional change.

“I’m voting no because, as far as I’m concerned, marriage has always been between a man and a woman since the beginning of time and there’s no reason to change it,” she said. “Marriage is basically to set the scene for children to come into the world in the best possible way.”