A nation reborn: Ireland’s gay community awakens to a whole new world

Yes supporters celebrate their new found equality on Saturday, May 23, 2015, after Ireland became the world's first country to legalize same-sex marriage by a popular vote of its citizens.

Yes supporters celebrate their new found equality on Saturday, May 23, 2015, after Ireland became the world's first country to legalize same-sex marriage by a popular vote of its citizens. Peter Morrison, AP

Yes supporters celebrate their new found equality on Saturday, May 23, 2015, after Ireland became the world's first country to legalize same-sex marriage by a popular vote of its citizens.Peter Morrison, AP

Yes supporters celebrate their new found equality on Saturday, May 23, 2015, after Ireland became the world’s first country to legalize same-sex marriage by a popular vote of its citizens.

DUBLIN — Ireland’s gay citizens woke up Sunday in what felt like a nation reborn – some with dreams of wedding plans dancing in their heads.

Many weren’t rising too early. The Irish gay community’s biggest party in history came late Saturday, after the announcement that the nation’s voters had passed a same-sex marriage referendum by a landslide.

Ireland’s unexpectedly strong 62 percent “yes” to adding same-sex marriage to its conservative 1937 constitution is expected to lead to a wave of gay weddings this summer. The Justice Department confirmed Sunday it plans to publish a marriage bill this week that will be passed by both houses of parliament and signed into law by June.

With the move, Ireland became the first country in the world to approve same-sex marriage in a popular national vote. Nineteen other countries, including most U.S. states, have legalized the practice through their legislatures and courts.

For Ireland’s most prominent gay couple, Sen. Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan, it’s an emotionally overwhelming moment. Since 2003 they have fought Ireland legally to have their marriage in Canada recognized as valid here, have taken their case all the way to the Supreme Court. Now, their day has come.

“For so long, I’ve been having to dig in my heels and say: Well, we ARE married. I’m a married woman!” said Zappone, a Seattle native who resettled with her Irish spouse in Dublin after they met and fell in love while studying theology in Boston College. “Now that it has happened, at a personal level, it’s just going to take a long time to let that acceptance sink in.”

The unexpectedly strong percentage of approval surprised both sides. More than 1.2 million Irish voters backed the “yes” side to less than 750,000 voting “no.”

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“With today’s vote, we have disclosed who we are: a generous, compassionate, bold and joyful people,” Prime Minister Enda Kenny proclaimed.

Analysts credited the “yes” side with adeptly employing social media to mobilize young, first-time voters, tens of thousands of whom voted for the first time Friday. The “yes” campaign also featured moving personal stories from prominent Irish people – either coming out as gays or describing their hopes for gay children – that helped convince wavering voters to back equal marriage rights.

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