Ireland is going to the polls today for a landmark vote on whether to change its constitution to allow same-sex marriage.
If the referendum is passed, Ireland will become the first country in the world to adopt same-sex marriage through a popular vote.
Ireland’s voters will be asked to approve this statement: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”
If more say “yes” than say “no,” the change to the constitution will give gay and lesbian couples the right to civil marriage, but not to be wed in a church.
As in many other countries around the world, the issue is a polarizing one. And the referendum will be a test of whether in Ireland, a majority Catholic nation, more liberal thinking wins out over conservative, traditional leanings.
Opinion polls in the run-up to the vote suggest the “yes” vote is on track to come out on top — but that the gap is narrowing.
It wasn’t hard to find evidence of the divide in the streets of Dublin on the eve of the vote.
Daithi Galvin, 40 years old and a self-described devout atheist, told CNN that he would be voting yes “because Ireland deserves to be an equal community” in which “everyone, whether you be young or old, or black or white, or rich or poor, man or woman, has the right to be happy.”
But he said he feared the fierce debate — and a “yes” campaign some have seen as aggressive — might have led the degree of support for the measure to be overstated.
“There are people out there who will feel that they can’t publicly say no, but that’s the idea of democracy, that democracy should allow people to say yes or no because that’s their opinion,” he said.
Joanna Jordan, also in Dublin, is on the opposite side of the fence.
“I’m voting no because as far as I’m concerned, marriage has always been between a man and a woman since the beginning of time and there’s no reason to change it,” she told CNN. “Marriage is basically to set the scene for children to come into the world in the best possible way.”
She also believes the debate has been too polarizing to be sure which way the referendum will go.
“It’s so divisive, people aren’t talking about it, and Irish people love to talk!” she said. But if the referendum passes, “I would be sad for the country because family is so important and the foundation of the state is the family and if you break the foundation, you break the state.”
A Sunday Times/Behaviour and Attitudes Poll published Sunday indicated 63% of those surveyed supported the change, with 26% opposed and 11% undecided. That represented a 10% drop in support for the measure since March.
An Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll last week suggested 70% of voters who had made up their minds on the issue were in favor of the change to the constitution, and only 30% opposed. The poll did not include those who were undecided, which came to 17% of respondents.
Irish Prime Minister (or Taoiseach) Enda Kenny told TV3’s “Ireland AM” program last week that he believed the referendum would be close but that he was “confident it will be passed.”
Speaking this week, Kenny confirmed he himself would be voting yes. He added that the country could “create history” and that a “yes” vote would “obliterate” prejudice along with irrational fears of difference.
Any change to the constitution has to be put to a referendum. The decision to put the question to the vote in the first place was born out of consultation with members of the public.
In other countries that allow same-sex marriage, the decision was made by the government or the courts.