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    In Pictures: Ireland Heads To The Polls In Equal Marriage Referendum

    The country makes history as the first to put marriage equality to a popular vote.

    Voting is underway in the Republic of Ireland as the country goes to the polls to decide whether to legalize marriage equality, just 22 years after homosexuality was decriminalized.

    Voters are being asked whether or not they agree with the statement: "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex".

    If passed, Ireland will become the first country to vote in favor of equal marriage by popular vote. Some 20 other countries around the world have legalized same-sex marriage, but none via referendum.

    The issue has been a polarizing one in the largely Catholic country, and the vote will test whether modern, socially liberal values are more prevelant in Ireland than traditionalist, conservative thinking.

    The fact that the referendum is taking place shows the decreasing influence the church has over Ireland's increasingly secularly-minded Fine Gael-Labour government, led by Taoiseach Enda Kenny (pictured right, talking to Yes campaigners in Dublin).

    In 2010, the Irish government introduced civil partnership legislation, allowing legal recognition for same-sex couples. However, this differs from same-sex marriage, which is currently not recognized in Ireland's constitution.

    Polls opened at 7:00 a.m. BST (2 a.m. ET), and will remain open until 10:00 p.m. (5 p.m. ET). Counting is due to start on Saturday morning.

    Opinion polls suggest that the country is set to vote in favour of equal marriage. The government pointed that 68,000 additional people registered to vote in the last two weeks, which they believe are younger people more inclined to vote 'yes.'

    Urban areas like Dublin are believed to be the most likely to vote 'yes' in the referendum.

    In the days and weeks leading up to the vote, murals, signs and flags have been appearing across the capital in support of the 'Yes' campaign.

    The referendum marks the end of a hard-fought and occasionally bitter fight between the yes and no camps.

    Irish people who have lived abroad for 18 months or less are eligible to vote, with many — mostly 'Yes' campaigners — travelling home to the vote, and causing the #HomeToVote hashtag to trend on social media.

    'Yes' campaigners have argued that the vote marks a watershed moment in the country's acceptance of gay people.

    The 'No' campaign, meanwhile, has focused largely on parenthood, and has been comprised of "lay Catholic intellectuals, writers and activists, have warned that a yes vote will create a crisis of personal conscience in Ireland," according to The Guardian.