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'High turnout' in gay marriage vote

Published 22/05/2015

Joan Burton says the reform is about embracing minorities.
Joan Burton says the reform is about embracing minorities.

A high turnout is expected as voters in Ireland went to the polls in a landmark referendum on whether to introduce gay marriage.

Large numbers were reported in towns and cities across the country with officials in Dublin and Galway in particular recording a marked increase on previous votes from early in the day.

Twenty-one countries have already extended marriage rights to same-sex couples with Ireland's electorate of 3.2 million people being given the chance to make history as the first in the world to bring in the reform by popular vote.

The country has seen a surge in voter registration in recent weeks, 66,000 mostly young people and students, taking the total number of 18 to 25-year-olds to about 400,000.

Yes campaigners believe the youth vote will be key to a successful passing of the proposal but a higher than average turnout also adds an unknown quantity.

A result is expected sometime late tomorrow afternoon but returning officers have warned it is dependent on how close the ballot is.

The counting of ballots starts in the 43 constituencies at 9am tomorrow and a picture of how tight the contest should begin to emerge from the smaller regions and faster counts around midday.

In the last 24 hours social media documented many emigrants, mostly from the UK and Europe, returning home to cast their ballots with t heir influence and trips back flagged on Twitter with #hometovote.

It is only 22 years since Ireland decriminalised homosexuality.

Voters are now being asked one simple, specific question on whether to amend Article 41 of the 1937 Constitution by adding a new clause to a section titled The Family.

It asks voters to support or reject a change to the 78-year-old document which reads: "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex."

It does not suggest any change to the definition of the family or remove any outdated references in the section, including those that state a woman's place is at home.

The huge influx of young and first time voters was said to be creating some issues in some polling stations including people arriving with no identification or polling cards.

Questions were also being raised about why Bibles are visible on some desks as voters show their registration slips.

Officials said it was standard practice and a legal requirement in all polling stations on voting days allowing people to swear as to their identity if they have not brought suitable identification.

If voter turnout continues with the same pattern seen in the morning and early afternoon the overall figure is set to be one of the largest at a referendum.

Other countries have held referendums on gay marriage, including Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia where the extension of the right was not passed by the electorate.

Opinion polls put the Yes side well in front until a week ago, but concerns have been growing about undecided voters - around a quarter of those polled declined to declare their intentions.

The Yes campaign has been backed by all the main political parties but a small number of backbenchers are to vote No.

Concerns have grown that the more conservative politicians from the Fianna Fail and Fine Gael parties did not sufficiently canvass support, particularly in rural areas, amid fears of a backlash at next year's general election and a sense of complacency that the proposal would be accepted.

In a separate referendum also being held today, voters are being asked their views on proposals to reduce the age limit on who can stand for the presidency from 35 to 21.

The Yes Equality group, which helped to spearhead the campaign for gay marriage, said Ireland would not return to the way it was for LGBT people regardless of whether the proposal is passed.

Co-director Grainne Healy said: "It has been extraordinary to see families voting together, friends voting as a group, and new voters excited to be casting their very first vote on an issue which means so much to them."

Brian Sheehan, co-director of Yes Equality, said: "Witnessing young people return home to Ireland to their communities has been truly humbling. The marriage equality movement has ignited the imagination of a people to have an active part in the Ireland they want to live in and be proud of."

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