DUBLIN - Ireland on Sunday celebrated a historic referendum approving gay marriage, as the once all-powerful Catholic Church reflected on the need for a "reality check" to keep in touch with changing times.
Jubilant "Yes" supporters partied into the night after final results on Saturday showed 62 per cent of votes in favour and 38 per cent against in a country where being gay was a crime until 1993.
The gay community "has given all of Irish democracy one of its greatest days," wrote Irish Times columnist Fintan O'Toole.
"It has given our battered republic a new sense of engagement, a new confidence, an expanded sense of possibility," he said.
It was the first time ever that gay marriage had been approved by popular vote and many supporters of the referendum expressed their joy through Twitter with the hashtag #WeMadeHistory.
Ireland will become the 19th country in the world to legalise same-sex marriages once the necessary legislation is approved as expected by the summer.
Niall O'Connor in the Irish Independent highlighted the role of young people in driving a colourful campaign in which social media played a key role.
"The Celtic Tiger generation has let out an emphatic roar," he said.
"The once unshakable influence of the Catholic Church over Middle Ireland has been confronted." All of Ireland's 43 constituencies except one voted in favour of the measure and the 60-per cent turnout was far higher than in previous referendums, as thousands of expatriates returned home on packed ferries and planes to cast their ballots.
Congratulations poured in, including a tweet from Prime Minister David Cameron, who legalised gay marriage in Britain, saying the result made it clear "you are equal if you are straight or gay".
US Vice President Joe Biden, who is of Irish descent, wrote: "We welcome Ireland's support for equality. #LoveWins".
A string of Irish celebrities had backed the campaign and rock band U2 posted a photo on Instagram with the words "In the name of love..." - one of their most famous songs.
The referendum asked voters whether or not they approved the statement: " Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex." Legalising gay marriage is a seismic change in Ireland, where the Roman Catholic Church has traditionally been hugely influential.
The majority of Irish people still identify themselves as Catholic and abortion is still banned except in cases where the mother's life is in danger.
But the Church's influence has waned in recent years amid growing secularisation and after a wave of child sex abuse scandals that discredited the clergy.
"I think the Church needs to do a reality check right across the board... Have we drifted away completely from young people?" Diarmuid Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin, told national broadcaster RTE.
"It's a social revolution that didn't begin today," said Martin, who voted "No" and had argued that the rights of gay people should be respected "without changing the definition of marriage".