Ireland became the first nation to approve same-sex marriage by a popular vote, sweeping aside the opposition of the Roman Catholic Church in a resounding victory Saturday for the gay rights movement and placing the country at the vanguard of social change.
With the final ballots counted, the vote was 62 percent in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, and 38 percent opposed.
The turnout was large — more than 60 percent of the 3.2 million eligible voters cast ballots, and only one district out of 43 voted the measure down. Cheers broke out among the crowd of supporters who had gathered in the courtyard of Dublin Castle when Returning Officer Riona Ni Fhlanghaile announced around 7 p.m. that the ballot had passed, 1,201,607 votes to 734,300.
Not long ago, the vote would have been unthinkable. Ireland decriminalized homosexuality only in 1993, the church dominates the education system, and abortion remains illegal except when a mother’s life is at risk. But the influence of the church has waned amid scandals in recent years, while attitudes, particularly among the young, have shifted.
“Today Ireland made history,” Prime Minister Enda Kenny said at a news conference, adding that “in the privacy of the ballot box, the people made a public statement.”
“This decision makes every citizen equal and I believe it will strengthen the institution of marriage,” Mr. Kenny said.
The vote is also the latest chapter in a sharpening global cultural clash. Same-sex marriage is surging in the West, legal in 19 nations before the Irish vote and 37 American states, but almost always because of legislative or legal action. At the same time, homosexuality is illegal across much of the Middle East and gay rights are under renewed attack in Russia and parts of Africa.
The results showed wide and deep support for a measure that had dominated public discourse and dinner-table conversation in the months before the vote on Friday. Supporters celebrated in gatherings and on the streets, with the rainbow colors of the gay rights movement and Yes vote buttons conspicuously on display.
Surprising many who had predicted a generational divide, the support cut across age and gender, geography and income, early results showed.
With early vote counts suggesting a comfortable victory, crowds began to fill the courtyard of Dublin Castle, a government complex that was once the center of British rule. By late morning, the leader of the opposition, David Quinn, director of the Iona Institute, conceded the outcome on Twitter: “Congratulations to the Yes side. Well done.”
In a news release, the Iona Institute congratulated the yes side for “a very professional campaign that in truth began long before the official campaign started.”
But it also said “we will continue to affirm the importance of the biological ties and of motherhood and fatherhood” and urged the government to “address the concerns voters on the No side have about the implications for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.”
Nick O’Connell, 42, who is from a rural area in County Kilkenny in the Irish Midlands, was cradling a celebratory drink in a Dublin bar, the Back Lounge. He said he had been too afraid to come out as gay until his mid-20s.
“Today I’m thinking of all those young people over the years who were bullied and committed suicide because of their sexuality. This vote was for them, too.”
He added: “This is different from other countries because it was the people who gave it to us, not a legislature.”
Ireland Became First Nation To Approve Same-Sex Marriage.