Gay marriage vote marks a quiet revolution in Ireland

Tue May 19, 2015 6:06pm EDT
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By Conor Humphries

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland, the last country in Western Europe to decriminalize homosexuality, now looks set only two decades later to become the first in the world to approve same-sex marriage in a national referendum.

Back in 1993, legalizing gay sex divided a deeply Catholic society. But a quiet revolution since then has so changed Ireland that now all political parties strongly back the reform.

Only two of the 166 parliamentary deputies oppose it.

Prime Minister Enda Kenny, a practicing Catholic, has even visited a gay bar and polls predicting Friday's vote will pass by two-to-one.

Activists say close-knit communities drove the change by rallying around gay friends, family and co-workers, while the collapse of the Catholic Church's overwhelming influence allowed the political system to slowly come on board.

"Politicians used to rush out of the way to avoid photos with me. Now it's the reverse," said David Norris, a senator who led a decades-long campaign to decriminalize gay sex.

"The (same-sex marriage) campaign itself has been a landmark for Ireland ... there is a much clearer and much softer attitude toward gay people," he said.

Neighboring Britain decriminalized homosexuality in 1967, but a veil of silence smothered the issue in Catholic Ireland. In the 1970s, police monitored Dublin's only gay bar and tiny gay pride marches were jeered by passers-by.   Continued...

A restaurant displays a poster supporting the Yes vote, in the Caple Street area of Dublin in Ireland May 18, 2015.  REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton