May,23,2015: Several priests have voted in the referendum in favour of legalising gay marriage, according to Irish media reports.
The Republic of Ireland voted strongly in favour of legalising same sex marriage in a referendum held today in which more than 3.2 million people cast their vote.
Ireland is the first country to legalise same-sex marriage through a popular vote.
In a country where 84 percent of the population is Catholic, the overwhelming sentiment in favour of same-sex marriage makes the referendum especially significant. The voter turnout is estimated to be between 50 and 60 percent. By early afternoon the trends were so clearly in favour of the ‘Yes’ vote that the ‘No’ camp conceded defeat even before it was formally called.
Speaking before the referendum to the Independent, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that the central issue of the referendum was about equality and to give people the “opportunity to live a life with the person that they love. It is as simple as that.”
After the verdict became clear, Mr. Kenny told the media that a Yes vote would carry abroad the message of Ireland’s “pioneering leadership”.
“I wanted to be an equal citizen in my own country and today I am,” Health Minister Leo Varadkar, who came out as gay earlier this year told telling reporters in Dublin, the Irish Times reported. The clear majority showed that Ireland was a “beacon of equality and liberty to the rest of the world,” he said.
The Catholic Church’s once dominant role in Irish politics and society today stands greatly diminished, and the overwhelming popular endorsement for gay civil marriage will further erode its influence. Several priests have voted in the referendum in favour of legalising gay marriage, according to Irish media reports, despite the well-known position of the Church. It is perhaps in view of the strong popular support for gay rights that the Church has been circumspect in its opposition to the referendum, and has refrained from telling its supporters how to vote.
“I remind all of you of your civic responsibility to vote,” Archbishop Diarmuid Martin wrote in his pastoral reflections on the website of the Irish Catholic Bishop’s Conference, adding, “I urge you before voting to remember that marriage really matters and to reflect carefully and be informed before changing its definition.”
Despite a significant move forward on gay rights, Ireland remains stubbornly conservative and unchanging on the issue of abortion.
Earlier this year, a proposal to change the abortion law to legalise terminations in fatal foetal abnormality cases was rejected by the Irish parliament.
A minor change in the abortion law was effected after the death of Savita Halappanavar, the 31-year old Indian dentist who died of septicemia in an Irish hospital in 2012, a week after her request for an abortion was turned down. After that incident, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was introduced, which allows abortion if the mother’s life is threatened during pregnancy.