Catholic and deeply conservative, Ireland has long disapproved of homosexuality. Homosexuality was decriminalized here only in 1993, after years of pressure from European authorities.
While many countries around the world have legalized same-sex marriage, Ireland’s vote on Friday could change their constitution and make it the world’s first country to approve same-sex marriage in a popular vote potentially by as much as a 2-to-1 margin in favor.
The Irish Times poll of 1,200 voters showed 58% planned to vote to legalize same-sex marriage in Ireland compared to 25% against it and 17% undecided.
Two more polls to be published in Sunday newspapers put support to legalize same-sex marriage above 60%, while the third saw those in favor decrease to 53% with 24% opposed and nearly as many undecided, the Huffington Post reports.
However, the contest is expected to tighten as the campaign enters its final days.
Analysts have said the fall in support in some of the polls is nowhere near as sharp as the decline in support for divorce in a 1995 vote, when the 44 point lead for those in favor of divorce disappeared as conservative campaigners spoke out in the last weeks of campaign. Still, divorce was legalized after the measure was approved by 50.3%.
The church has come down firmly against the national referendum, also known as a plebiscite or popular vote. However, support for gay rights has surged in Ireland in recent decades as the power of the Catholic Church collapsed in the wake of a series of child abuse scandals.
Unlike in the United States, where nine Supreme Court justices will soon give their ruling, Ireland has placed the choice in the hands of its 4.5 million people.
To gay marriage opponents, a yes vote would be a deeply unsettling symbol of a society transformed beyond recognition. Abortion is still prohibited in Ireland, but opponents feel that legalizing same-sex marriage would completely flip-flop a society where divorce was illegal and the sale of condoms was tightly regulated until the mid-1990s.
The Irish Times reported that citizen Marie Ó Faoláin is voting No “for the sake of the family and the children. For family life. I have lovely gay friends, really nice people. They have civil partnership. I really think [it takes] a man and woman to found a family. I mean that’s what it’s all about. The State, at least our Constitution, has promised to protect the family, that’s why I’m voting No, absolutely.”
Citizen Matthew Merrigan is voting Yes, saying, “it’s just that civil partnerships can be abolished through legislation and I just want to make sure they are covered by the Constitution. That’s the main reason I’m voting Yes.”
Same-sex marriage was allowed for the first time in the United Kingdom last year, but it is still not permitted in Northern Ireland, where the Democratic Unionist Party of First Minister Peter Robinson has campaigned against it.
Irish voters go to the polls on Friday, with the results of the referendum expected the following day.