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Locals laud Ireland’s vote on gay marriage

“There’s going to be change to come,” John Larrabee, 76, said.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

As Ireland became the first nation in the world Saturday to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote, many Irish-Americans in Greater Boston greeted the vote as a seismic shift for the traditionally Catholic country which has seen rapid social change in recent years.

“It’s a great vote for the country,” said Boston City Council President Bill Linehan, a lifelong resident of the historically Irish South Boston neighborhood. “It’s just a different island. They’re looking to see that all people can share in love and family.”

The final vote was 62 to 38 percent in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. Nineteen other countries have legalized the practice.


The turnout was large — more than 60 percent of the 3.2 million people eligible cast ballots, and only one district rejected the measure.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh, the son of Irish immigrants, thanked Irish citizens in Boston who traveled abroad to vote.

“I am extremely proud of Ireland, following Massachusetts’ lead in supporting marriage equality for all,” he said in a statement.

Last month, the US Supreme Court heard arguments on whether gay couples should have a constitutional right to marry. Same-sex marriage is legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia. Massachusetts became the first state to permit gay marriage in 2004.

Two prominent figures in the fight to legalize same-sex marriage in Ireland have ties to Boston.

Katherine Zappone, an American-born theologian and member of the Irish Senate, and her wife, Ann Louise Gilligan, legally married in Canada in 2003 and then sued Ireland in 2006 to have their marriage recognized there. The couple met at Boston College. Gilligan is a former nun.

The country’s High Court conceded that Ireland’s constitution does not explicitly define marriage as between a man and woman, but rejected their case on grounds that Irish law universally recognizes marriage as a heterosexual institution.


On Saturday, Zappone proposed to Gilligan live on Irish television and the couple plan to hold a wedding even though their Canadian marriage license will soon become legal in Ireland.

‘‘There’s nothing like an Irish wedding,’’ Zappone said.

State Attorney General Maura Healey, the country’s first openly gay attorney general, reacted to the vote saying, “It’s great to see to such a resounding vote by the people in support of equality.

“I’m just so proud to be Irish-American,” she said. “Hopefully, we will in this country catch up, and in the very near future — even if it’s going to be by court mandate.”

Given Ireland’s strong Catholic identity, she said, the outcome may have surprised some, but to her, the support for gay marriage was expected.

“I’m an Irish-Catholic gay American and I’m not surprised,” Healey said. “There are gay people across all regions and races and ethnicities. I think it was really moving to see so many from the clergy step forward and support equal rights there. I think that was a really powerful statement.”

For some, the landslide victory was seen as the passing of the baton from the Ireland of the 1980s when people voted against abortion and divorce, to a new generation, including tens of thousands of young people who cast ballots for the first time Friday.

“We were visiting Ireland and they were so against divorce we couldn’t even talk to people about it,” said Connie Cassidy Koutoujian, a Waltham resident who has visited the country more than 20 times and is involved in several Irish organizations. “I was thrilled with this.”


Catherine B. Shannon, a retired professor who specialized in Irish history at Westfield State University, called the vote the latest milestone in Ireland’s shift from its traditional foundations. These changes, she said, started in the 1980s.

One factor in this evolution is the Catholic Church’s slumping standing in Irish society as a result of the clergy sex abuse scandal, which had an extensive reach in Ireland, Shannon said.

“That’s had a major impact in particular from the young people,” she said. “They think they just can’t take their direction from that quarter anymore.”

The Catholic Church opposes gay marriage. Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Boston, was not available Saturday to comment, said spokesman Terrence Donilon. He referred a reporter to earlier statements made by the state’s four Roman Catholic bishops supporting the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

As people gathered Saturday afternoon for Mass at Gate of Heaven Church in South Boston, some expressed support for the vote, though most said they were dismayed and refused to give their names. One man who was disappointed said he was visiting Boston from Ireland.

“I don’t agree with it, but you have a vote. That’s it,” he said. “It’s a choice, everyone has a right to vote. Whether yes or no, the people will live with it.”


Others in South Boston expressed support for the Irish vote.

“I think it’s a good thing,” said Maria Harrington, 73, a Dracut resident who was visiting Castle Island. “People have the right to be happy.”

John Larrabee and his wife, Jean, both 76, were also visiting Castle Island. He said he was raised Catholic and supports the referendum.

“There’s going to be change to come,” Larrabee said.

Globe correspondents Derek J. Anderson and Alexandra Koktsidis contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.