Same-sex referendum: High turnout reported as polls close in Republic of Ireland

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A nun casts her vote at a polling station in DublinImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
A nun casts her vote at a polling station in Dublin on Friday morning

The polls have closed in the Republic of Ireland, where voters have been taking part in a referendum on whether to legalise same-sex marriage.

More than 3.2m people were asked whether they wanted to amend the country's constitution to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

Polling stations closed at 22:00 BST and counting is due to start on Saturday morning.

They reported an "unusually high" turnout on Friday.

Irish state broadcaster RTÉ said the turnout in most areas was well ahead of what it had been in recent referendums.

Dublin, Limerick and Waterford passed the 60% electorate turnout mark, while in Cork, Carlow, Kilkenny, Donegal, Tipperary, Kerry and Galway it was above 50%.

Prior to Friday, votes had already been cast in some islands as well as hospitals, hospices and nursing homes. Irish citizens who are registered are allowed to vote, with a limited amount of postal voting. Many people returned to Ireland to cast their votes.

Image source, RTE
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Irish President Michael D Higgins was among those voting on Friday
Image source, RTE
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Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny voted in Castlebar, County Mayo

They were asked whether they agree with the statement: "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex".

The referendum was being held 22 years after homosexual acts were decriminalised in Ireland.

If the change is approved, Ireland would become the first country to legalise same-sex marriage through a popular vote.

In 2010, the Irish government enacted civil partnership legislation, which provided legal recognition for gay couples.

Image source, AFP
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The result of the referendum is expected some time on Saturday

But there are some important differences between civil partnership and marriage, the critical one being that marriage is protected in the constitution while civil partnership is not.

Presidential candidates

A constitutional convention established by the Irish government in 2013 considered the specifics of a proposal on extending marriage rights, as well as discussing other changes to the constitution.

It voted in favour of holding a referendum on same-sex marriage and the date was announced by Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny earlier this year.

A separate referendum, on whether the eligibility age of presidential candidates should be lowered from 35 to 21, is being held at the same time, along with a parliamentary by-election in the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency.

Same-sex marriage is currently legal in 19 countries worldwide.