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Ireland Just Became the First Country to Approve Gay Marriage by a Popular Vote

The Irish voted overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage and enshrining it in their constitution.

by Sally Hayden
May 23 2015, 4:10pm

Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News

Hours before Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage by a national vote, Mother Nature seemed to cast her ballot Saturday when a rainbow appeared in the sky above Dublin.

The Irish voted overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage and enshrining it in their constitution. All but one constituency voted yes on the referendum, and 62 percent of voters nationwide — more than 1.2 million people — supported it, according to the official results announced Saturday evening.

After the polling stations closed on Friday, campaigners on both sides of the issue remained anxious as they waited for the ballot count to begin on Saturday morning. Quickly, though, the outcome became clear. An hour into the count, Irish Health Minister Leo Varadkar — who recently come out as gay — tweeted: "Question now is will any constituency vote no?"

As the official announcement approached, people began to gather on the grounds of Dublin Castle in the capital's city center.

Rachel Doyle, an 18-year-old from Enniscorthy, was one of the first people to arrive. "We just decided to come early to get a good view," she told VICE News. "Sounds like it's going to be a yes."

Doyle's 21-year-old sister Rebecca smiled before telling VICE News that she is engaged. This referendum result means she can finally think about setting a date for the wedding.

"It's about time it got passed," Rachel Doyle said. "We're a bit late. In the dark ages."

Anna McCarthy and Aoife O'Driscoll have been campaigning for this for a decade. (Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

Anna McCarthy, a 32-year-old originally from the southern county of Kerry, told VICE News that she had been awake since 5am Saturday morning.

"We haven't really been sleeping the last few days, we've just been so apprehensive and nervous and excited," she said.

"We just figured we'd come into town because everyone's on social media, giving each other support but we all just kind of wanted to be together, so all of our friends are coming in and watching this historic day, standing here crying and laughing and crying."

With her was Aoife O'Driscoll, 33, who told VICE News that she had been campaigning in support of same-sex marriage for the better part of a decade.

"I think so many people put so much into it," she said. "We went out on canvases and you were getting canvases where 200 people just turned up. So I think all of those people are just waiting to see if that made a difference, and it's an incredible result. An absolutely incredible result."

O'Driscoll said it was truly a grassroots campaign. "I hope that this will be a jumping point to a more equal society where we look at social inequality, because we have a lot," she said. "Seventy-one families became homeless in Dublin last month; we need to deal with that. We need to deal with the housing crisis. We need to deal with inequality across the board, but this shows that you can galvanize people into something."

David Moore, a 52-year-old from Donabate, told VICE News that the Catholic Church had been an oppressor in Irish society, and "today we're kicking them out."

Isabelle Nolan, 18, voted for the first time in this referendum. She said it was all that had been talked about at her school for the past few weeks. "I think it's good that everyone voted because I think it's important that people are treated equally, so it was very good to see that a lot of people agreed with that," she said.

Senator David Norris arrives to resounding cheers. (Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

As the hours progressed and the "no" side conceded defeat, prominent LGBT rights campaigner David Norris moved from a count center to Dublin Castle. Homosexuality in Ireland was illegal until 1993, when the law was changed after Norris successfully sued the state. On Saturday, as he walked through the crowds, people rushed forward to take pictures of him, snap selfies with him, or shake his hand and thank him profusely.

"The Irish people have said resoundingly yes," Norris jubilantly told VICE News. "That's the voice of real liberty, real freedom, and real decency. This will be a signal and this will strengthen people for marriage equality across the planet."

Norris also told VICE News that he doesn't see this vote as a rejection of the Catholic Church. "I think the Roman Catholic Church has been foolish. It's like turning the Titanic around, it takes a long, long time. So I have sympathy with people like Pope Francis."

'This will be a signal and this will strengthen people for marriage equality across the planet.'

In terms of the turnout, which indicated an undeniable support, he said, "A victory is a victory. But this is a resounding statement. This is the Irish people speaking. It's not a court. It's not a government. This is the people themselves welcoming their gay fellow citizens into the Irish family, and for that reason it's very moving."

Asked whether he felt that Ireland had been slow to introduce full LGBT rights, he responded, "I don't think it's that slow. We had 2,000 years of being completely outlawed, and to do it all in one lifetime is completely astonishing."

The mood in the city center was celebratory. Conor Gallagher, 25, from the Dublin suburb Knocklyon, pointed to the sky before exclaiming, "Even the sun has come out."

Luke Hoare Greene kisses his boyfriend at Dublin Castle. (Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

Holding up balloons spelling out "yes," 24-year-old Luke Hoare Greene told VICE News that while he's not ready to get married just yet, "this referendum has shown that a majority of people accept you and don't care who you love. The polls have spoken that it's okay to come out.

"The bigger the win, the better the message it sends to LGBT people around Ireland and the world," he added. "Particularly younger people, who are maybe not sure if it's okay to come out."

Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams joined LGBT rights activist Panti Bliss on stage at Dublin Castle. (Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

David Quinn of Catholic advocacy group the Iona Institute, which campaigned against the referendum, told RTE that it was an "impressive" victory.

"Obviously there's a certain amount of disappointment, but I'm philosophical about the outcome," he said. "It was always going to be an uphill battle — there were far fewer organizations on the 'no' side, while all the major political parties were lined up on the 'yes' side, and you had major corporations coming out for the first time to say how we should vote on a particular issue."

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd