Updated: 6:00 p.m. EDT
DUBLIN — Ireland’s citizens have voted in a landslide to legalize same-sex marriage, electoral officials announced Saturday – a stunningly lopsided result that illustrates what Catholic leaders and rights activists alike called a “social revolution.”
Friday’s referendum saw 62.1 percent of Irish voters say “yes” to changing the nation’s constitution to define marriage as a union between two people regardless of their sex. Outside Dublin Castle, watching the results announcement in its cobblestoned courtyard, thousands of gay rights activists cheered, hugged and cried at the news.
“With today’s vote, we have disclosed who we are: a generous, compassionate, bold and joyful people,” Prime Minister Enda Kenny proclaimed as he welcomed the outcome. Beside him, Deputy Prime Minister Joan Burton declared the victory “a magical moving moment, when the world’s beating heart is in Ireland.”
Ireland is the first country to approve gay marriage in a popular national vote. Nineteen other countries have legalized the practice through their legislatures and courts.
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.” Only one of Ireland’s 43 constituencies recorded a narrow “no” majority, Roscommon-South Leitrim in the boggy midlands.
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. In addition, a series of searing personal stories from prominent Irish people – either coming out as gays or describing their hopes for gay children – convinced voters to back equal marriage rights.
Article continues belowBoth Catholic Church leaders and gay rights advocates said the result signaled a social revolution in Ireland, where only a few decades ago the authority of Catholic teaching was reinforced by voters who massively backed bans on abortion and divorce in the 1980s.
Voters first legalized divorce only by a razor-thin margin in 1995 and now, by a firm majority, they have rejected the Catholic Church’s repeated calls to reject gay marriage. Abortion, still outlawed, looms as the country’s next great social policy fight.