Thursday 29 September 2016

The world looks on as Irish voters make history

Resounding Yes result dominates the news agenda across the globe

Shane Doran

Published 24/05/2015 | 02:30

WITNESSES TO HISTORY: Brian O’Driscoll and his daughter Sadie outside Dublin Castle
WITNESSES TO HISTORY: Brian O’Driscoll and his daughter Sadie outside Dublin Castle

It was a day when Ireland made history, becoming the first country in the world to vote in favour of same-sex marriage. And as yesterday's extraordinary events unfolded at home, the story dominated headlines across the globe as early tallies confirmed a resounding Yes vote was on the cards.

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The marriage equality referendum was the top news item on the BBC's World Service from early yesterday. It reported an "unusually high turnout", particularly of young voters, was a key factor in the result, predicting from early yesterday that "the Republic of Ireland would become the first country to legalise same-sex marriage through a popular vote".

Top US news channel CNN was even more emphatic, describing early tallies as pointing towards a "big fat Yes".

CNN declared the referendum had been "a social media sensation", and that all of Ireland's main political parties had united to back the Yes vote, despite the opposition of the Catholic Church, who "focused on a message of protecting the traditional family".

Britain's Daily Telegraph used the result to launch a stinging attack on the Catholic Church, describing the Yes vote as a "wake-up call" to the clergy. "Ireland's priests have lost the right to moralise, and its people have stopped listening. For a traditionally conservative and Catholic country - that didn't legalise homosexuality until 1993 - it is refreshing all political parties are united in their support for a Yes vote. One institution which hasn't changed its tune is the Catholic Church, which remains opposed to marriage equality. But their influence is not what it once was, and the 84pc of Irish people who identify as Catholic no longer take the Church's word as gospel. Half-empty pews and thinly spread priests tell the story of a Church in decline."

The same-sex referendum was also a leading item on The New York Times website, which reported early counts showing "strong support for a measure that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago in what had traditionally been a Roman Catholic stronghold".

The New York Times also featured a story about the parents of a gay Irishman, Padraic Whyte (36), who actively campaigned with their son for a Yes vote. Padraic was quoted as saying that his parents regarded his decision to come out as "a blessing" - and even went to their church to "celebrate" his decision.

Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera said the overwhelming referendum result marked a "seismic" change in Irish society. It said the referendum was a "significant vote considering the power and reach of the Irish Catholic Church". And it predicted: "Church leaders across the world will be looking closely at the results of Ireland's referendum".

Al Jazeera said legalising gay marriage would be a "seismic change in traditionally Catholic Ireland, where homosexuality was illegal until 1993 and abortion remains prohibited except where the mother's life is in danger".

The historic referendum was also a source of fascination in countries where homosexuality is still illegal. The story featured prominently in India's Hindustan Times, which reported that the Irish Catholic Church limited its No campaigning to "its remaining flock, a marked contrast with active public opposition to similar moves in France and elsewhere".

Instead, it added: "Lay groups have led the opposition, raising concerns over parenthood and surrogacy rights for gay couples."

The story was also one of the lead items in Australia's flagship Sydney Morning Herald, which declared: "Irish Gays will wed". The Sydney Morning Herald reported how David Quinn, "a leading No campaigner conceded defeat in Ireland's historic referendum" even as the early counts came in.

In Catholic Spain, the respected El Pais declared: "Irlanda aprueba el matriomonio gay" (Ireland approves gay marriage). It also described the result as a "historic event for a staunchly Catholic country where homosexuality was illegal and carried the possibility of a jail sentence until as recently as 1993".

The story also featured prominently on news channels in China, where homosexuality was only removed from the state's official list of 'mental illnesses' as recently as 2001. The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported Ireland "voted resoundingly to legalise gay marriage in the world's first national vote on the issue".

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