Ireland goes to the polls to vote on marriage equality

Members of the Yes Equality campaign begin canvassing in the center of Dublin, Ireland, Thursday May 21, 2015. People from across the Republic of Ireland will vote Friday in a referendum on the legalization of same-sex marriage, a vote that pits the power of the Catholic Church against the secular-minded Irish government of Enda Kenny.

Members of the Yes Equality campaign begin canvassing in the center of Dublin, Ireland, Thursday May 21, 2015. People from across the Republic of Ireland will vote Friday in a referendum on the legalization of same-sex marriage, a vote that pits the power of the Catholic Church against the secular-minded Irish government of Enda Kenny. Peter Morrison, AP

Members of the Yes Equality campaign begin canvassing in the center of Dublin, Ireland, Thursday May 21, 2015. People from across the Republic of Ireland will vote Friday in a referendum on the legalization of same-sex marriage, a vote that pits the power of the Catholic Church against the secular-minded Irish government of Enda Kenny.Peter Morrison, AP

Members of the Yes Equality campaign begin canvassing in the center of Dublin, Ireland, Thursday May 21, 2015. People from across the Republic of Ireland will vote Friday in a referendum on the legalization of same-sex marriage, a vote that pits the power of the Catholic Church against the secular-minded Irish government of Enda Kenny.

DUBLIN — Ireland’s voters were deciding Friday whether to legalize same-sex marriage in this once-staunchly Catholic land in what the government’s equality minister called “a referendum like no other.”

Opinion polls throughout the two-month campaign suggest the government-backed amendment favoring gay marriage should be approved by a majority of voters when results are announced Saturday. But gay rights activists expressed caution, based on previous votes when anti-government sentiment and low turnout produced surprise referendum rejections.

Electoral officers reported stronger-than-usual voter turnout at polling stations in schools, church halls and pubs across this nation of 3.2 million registered voters. Some lines built up outside stations before the 7 a.m. opening. On social media, voters traveling in from as far away as Australia posted their progress and voting intentions. Most were saying “yes.”

Voters leaving one polling station in northeast Dublin, a Catholic parish hall, demonstrated a clear generation gap when asked how they had voted. Those under 40 were solidly “yes,” older voters much more likely to have voted “no.”

“You can give the gays their rights without redefining the whole institution of marriage. What they’re asking for is too much,” said Bridget Ryan, 61, as she voted with her border collie in tow.

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On Twitter, travelers documented their disparate journeys home to Ireland via London, New York, Bangkok and Nairobi, often under the hashtags #HomeToVote or, for those in neighboring Britain, #GetTheBoatToVote. One posted a picture on a London-to-Wales train with travelers donning the rainbow colors and balloons of the gay rights movement.

The government’s minister for equality, Aodhan O Riordain, cast his “yes” ballot in northeast Dublin, declaring it the most important vote of his life. He took heart from early signs of a strong turnout, since involvement by young, first-time voters is considered key for the gay rights measure to pass.

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