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UN boss praises Ireland on gay vote

Published 24/05/2015

People gather at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin, after Zappone proposed live on TV as votes are continued to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage. Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
People gather at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin, after Zappone proposed live on TV as votes are continued to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage. Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has declared Ireland's overwhelming support for gay marriage is a message to the world.

In the country to mark its 60-year membership of the UN and tradition of international peacekeeping, Ban praised Irish voters for making history in the landmark ballot.

"This is a truly historic moment: Ireland has become the first country in the world to approve marriage equality in a nationwide referendum," he said.

"The result sends an important message to the world: All people are entitled to enjoy their human rights no matter who they are or whom they love."

Within hours of the gay rights' victory, the reform was being billed as a massive boost for the Republic's reputation on the international stage, sentiments backed by former foreign affairs minister Mr Gilmore, a key figure in forcing the vote.

"Around the world today there are countries that have people who are looking at Ireland and looking at it favourably, want to visit, want to be part of it, and see it in an entirely new light," he told RTE Radio.

"I think we also have an obligation to take that decision, to take that mandate, to take the moral authority from that vote and to become international advocates for the rights of LGBT people who are being oppressed."

It is only 22 years since homosexuality was decriminalised in the Republic.

On the back of the resounding yes for gay marriage - 1.2 million Irish voters backed it - attention is now turning to when the first ceremonies will take place.

New laws are expected to be passed by the Dail parliament before the summer recess, with couples obliged to give the standard three month notification of a wedding day.

While there are likely to be exceptions to the wait, in circumstances such as serious illness, the first ceremonies are not expected until late autumn.

Passed by 62% of voters, the referendum heralded a dramatic shift in social values for a country traditionally held up as a bastion of Catholicism and conservative lifestyles.

The UN chief made his remarks as he was honoured with the Tipperary International Peace Award, some of whose previous recipients include Nelson Mandela, Sir Bob Geldof, former Irish president Mary McAleese and in 2013 the Pakistani schoolgirl and activist Malala Yousafzai, who survived being shot at point blank range by a Taliban gunman for going to school.

Ban said the landmark move to enshrine gay marriage in the Irish Constitution was a further display of Ireland's standing as a strong proponent of human rights.

"We saw this commitment yet again with Friday's referendum," he said.

Government officials will now set about finalising draft legislation to give effect to a new section in the 1937 Constitution stating that "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex."

Mr Gilmore, a former Labour Party leader who pushed the coalition government to hold the historic referendum, said the huge majority in favour of gay marriage puts an onus on the Republic to fight oppression on the global stage.

"I think we do need to take this result and advance it but to advance it internationally rather than domestically," he said.

"If you look at many parts of the world it is not just gay marriage is not available to gay people it is that homosexual people in many parts of the world are persecuted are criminalised and really are second class citizens."

Mr Gilmore has described gay marriage as a defining civil rights issue of this generation.

Elsewhere, the result sparked some soul searching in one of the country's leading Catholic clerics.

Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, declared the groundswell of support for same-sex couples a social revolution and warned that it did not happen in the day before polling.

"I think really the Church needs to do a reality check," the cleric said.

The result also raised questions about if or when a similar referendum or reform would be introduced in Northern Ireland - the only region of the UK not to adopt similar laws.

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