The Irish are poised to legalize same-sex marriage

LONDON -- The Irish public was taking to the polls Friday in a referendum poised to make the country the first in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote.

Polls leading up to Friday's vote showed support for same sex marriage at two-to-one.

It would be a sweeping change for a country of 5 million people - almost 85 percent of whom identify themselves as Roman Catholic.

Polling stations opened up at 7 a.m. (2 a.m. Eastern) and the voting was to continue until 10 p.m.

Supporters of the "Yes" vote -- the ones in favor of same-sex marriage -- were hoping for a strong turnout of young voters. Tens of thousands of them registered in recent weeks.

The measure has gained wide-spread support; all political parties in Ireland had voiced their support for legalized same-sex marriage, as did big employers and Ireland's prime minister.

There has been opposition, as you would imagine, from Irish religious leaders, including Catholic bishops. But their influence has eroded in recent years, due in part to the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal.

A nun votes in central Dublin as Ireland holds a referendum on same-sex marriage
A nun votes in central Dublin as Ireland holds a referendum on same-sex marriage, May 22, 2015.
REUTERS

The results of the referendum were to be announced Saturday.

If same-sex marriage is approved by Irish voters, it will come little more than two decades after Ireland became the last country in Western Europe to de-criminalize homosexuality.

Filed by CBS Newspath correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti in London.