By late afternoon Saturday it will be clear whether or not voters in Ireland have backed a controversial referendum that would not only permit same-sex marriage, it would make it the first country in the world to give it a place in the constitution.
The campaign has been a tale of David and Goliath-like proportions. The push to redefine marriage has the backing of all political parties, most media outlets and multinational giants with bases in Ireland, including Google and Twitter. On the other side, the Catholic bishops have opposed the move by means of pastoral letters to parishioners and a small coalition of pro-family groups have struggled to have their voices heard in a hostile media.
Opinion polls show overwhelming support for same-sex marriage. However, turnout will be key. Support is huge amongst younger urban voters. Older and rural voters are much less enthusiastic with over-65s likely to vote ‘no’ by a margin of 2-1.
The poll will be decided by a simple majority, so if large urban areas vote ‘yes’ en-masse, rural Ireland will simply lack the votes required to block the redefinition of marriage.
The campaign has often been heated, sometimes nasty. ‘No’ campaigners report that around 40% of their posters have been criminally removed and destroyed by the more hostile elements in the ‘yes’ campaigns. The pro-same-sex marriage side has also been boosted considerably by millions of dollars which they have received from US-based liberal philanthropists. They see considerable bragging rights in getting a ‘yes’ in traditionally Catholic Ireland.