Brisk start to voting as country takes to polls

Brisk start to voting as country takes to polls

Voting has begun briskly as campaigners bid to make Ireland the first country in the world to introduce gay marriage by popular vote.

In the midlands, turn-out at six polling stations in Laois is averaging 6.3%. It's a similar story across Offaly where the figure a short time ago was 5.9%. And in Westmeath, it's averaging 5%at two polling stations.

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny voting in the referendums at St. Anthony's National School, Castlebar. Picture: Keith Heneghan

Turn-out is higher in Kildare at just over 10%, while in Cork it was also close to 10% in some polling stations by 10am today.

Twenty-one countries have already extended the right to same-sex couples. Now, more than 3.2 million voters in Ireland have been asked for their say, with polling stations open from 7am to 10pm.

There has been a surge in voter registration in recent weeks – 66,000 mostly young people and students – while in the last 24 hours social media documented many emigrants, mostly from the UK and Europe, returning home to cast their ballots.

Some of their thoughts have been captured under the #hometovote hashtag on twitter.

Among the electorate are 400,000 18-25-year-olds, who Yes campaigners believe will be key to a successful passing of the proposal.

Brisk start to voting as country takes to polls

Richard Bruton meets a voter today. Picture: Mark Maxwell/Maxpix

Voters are being asked one simple, specific question on whether to amend Article 41 of the 1937 Constitution by adding a new clause to a section titled The Family.

It asks voters to support or reject a change to the 78-year-old document which reads: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”

It does not suggest any change to the definition of the family or remove any other references in the section, including those that state a woman’s place is at home.

If passed, it will be the 34th constitutional amendment – and only 22 years since Ireland decriminalised homosexual acts.

Among those promoting support for gay marriage on Twitter was Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who said: “For gay sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, family and friends, Yeats said it best: Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

More than 2,000 islanders eligible to vote headed to polling stations off Donegal, Mayo and Galway yesterday, maintaining a tradition of early offshore polling days for fear that bad weather will disrupt the counts.

Other countries have held referendums on gay marriage, including Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia where the extension of the right was not passed by the electorate.

Brisk start to voting as country takes to polls

Tánaiste Joan Burton arrives to cast her vote at St Joseph's National School in Cabra, Dublin. Picture: PA

The counting of ballots starts in the 43 constituencies at 9am tomorrow, and a picture of how tight the contest has been should emerge by midday. A final declaration is expected between 4pm and 5pm

Opinion polls put the Yes side well in front until a week ago, but concerns have been growing about undecided voters – around a quarter of those polled declined to declare their intentions.

The Yes campaign has been backed by all the main political parties but a small number of backbenchers are to vote no.

Concerns have grown that the more conservative politicians from the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael parties did not sufficiently canvass support, particularly in rural areas, amid fears of a backlash at next year’s general election and a sense of complacency that the proposal would be accepted.

In a separate referendum also being held today, voters are being asked their views on proposals to reduce the age limit on who can stand for the presidency from 35 to 21.

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