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DUBLIN (Reuters) - One of Ireland's most prominent politicians became the first minister to announce he is gay, four months before a referendum on whether to allow same-sex marriage in the traditionally conservative Catholic country.
Health minister Leo Varadkar, 36, who is widely seen as one of the strongest contenders to succeed 63-year-old Prime Minister Enda Kenny as leader of the ruling Fine Gael party, made the announcement in an interview with state broadcaster RTE on Sunday.
"I'm a gay man. It's not a secret, but it's not something that everyone would necessarily know," Varadkar said.
The Roman Catholic Church dominated Irish politics until the 1980s and the country only legalized homosexual acts in 1993.
But Ireland has become much more liberal in recent years as the Church's public influence waned in the wake of a string of child sex abuse scandals.
Varadkar, who was born in Dublin to an Irish mother and Indian father, said he supported the marriage equality referendum, which opinion polls have indicated should pass comfortably, but would not feature prominently in the government's campaign.
Varadkar said Fine Gael leader Kenny, who in December visited a gay bar for his party's LGBT Christmas party, welcomed his decision to make the announcement.
The response on social media appeared to be overwhelmingly positive. "The nicest thing is it hardly seems to be causing any storm," comedian Dara O'Briain wrote on Twitter.
Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Andrew Heavens