If Ireland's referendum on same-sex marriage is passed, the country would become the first to approve marriage equality by popular vote. Political parties are backing the change.
Ireland is holding a referendum on gay marriage with opinion polls indicating it will likely become the first in the world to approve gay marriage by a vote, with nearly 60 percent in favor. Polls opened at 7 a.m. local time (0600 UTC) Friday and results are due Saturday.
In the once deeply Catholic country all the main political parties are supporting a 'Yes' vote. The Fine-Gael Labour coalition government in 2011 set up a constitutional covenant which voted in favor of extended marriage rights. Under Ireland's constitution, the public is required to confirm amendments.
"My message to people is that if you believe in equality, do not be complacent, do not leave it to others," Prime Minister Enda Kenny said ahead of the vote.
"Say yes, yes to inclusion, yes to rights, yes to love, yes to equality. Take away those burdens for people and let them be who they are," he said.
If the country does vote to allow gay marriage, it will be the first to adopt the policy by popular vote.
Catholic leaders are urging voters to reject gay marriage, saying its legalization could have repercussions that could undermine traditional marriages.
According to opinion polls, the vote may depend on whether the tens of thousands of newly registered younger voters turn up to cast their ballots. An Irish Times/Ipsos poll said the 'Yes' vote stood at 58 percent, with 'No' voters at 25 percent.
Out of 226 members of parliament, only five have come out publicly against the amendment.
Social media has played a large part in the nationwide discussion in recent weeks, while the role of the once powerful Catholic Church has been reduced in the wake of a series of child-abuse scandals. In a poll, only 35 percent of respondents said the Church could or has influenced their vote on the matter.
The couple used in a poster for the 'No' campaign (main photo) wrote to disassociate themselves from it, saying it was just a stock image, not intended for the referendum.
jm/bw (Reuters, AP)