Irish voters backed legalizing gay marriage by a landslide, according to electoral figures announced Saturday — a stunning result that illustrates the rapid social change taking place in this traditionally Catholic nation.
Figures from Friday’s referendum announced at Dublin Castle showed that 62.1 percent of Irish voters said “yes.” Outside, watching the results announcement live in the castle’s cobblestoned courtyard, thousands of gay rights activists cheered, hugged and cried.
The unexpectedly strong percentage of approval surprised both sides. Analysts and campaigners credited the “yes” side with adeptly using social media to mobilize first-time young voters and for a series of searing personal stories from Irish gay people to convince voters to back equal marriage rights.
Ireland is the first country to approve gay marriage in a popular national vote. Nineteen other countries have legalized the practice.
Political analysts who have covered Irish referendums for decades agreed that Saturday’s emerging landslide marked a stunning generational shift from the 1980s, when voters still firmly backed Catholic Church teachings and overwhelmingly voted against abortion and divorce.
John Lyons, one of just four openly gay lawmakers in the 166-member parliament, waved the rainbow flag of the Gay Pride movement in the Dublin City counting center and cried a few tears of joy. He paid special credit to the mobilization of younger voters, many of whom traveled home from work or studies abroad to vote.
“Most of the young people I canvassed with have never knocked on a door in their lives,” Lyons said. “This says something about modern Ireland. Let’s never underestimate the electorate or what they think.”
Report by Associated Press.