Ireland has voted resoundingly to legalise gay marriage in the world's first national vote on the issue, leaders on both sides of the Irish referendum declared Saturday even as official ballot counting continued.

Senior figures from the "no" campaign, who sought to prevent Ireland's constitution from being amended to permit same-sex marriages, say the only question is how large the "yes" side's margin of victory will be from Friday's vote.

"We're the first country in the world to enshrine marriage equality in our constitution and do so by popular mandate. That makes us a beacon, a light to the rest of the world of liberty and equality. So it's a very proud day to be Irish," said Leo Varadkar, a Cabinet minister who came out as gay at the start of a government-led effort to amend Ireland's conservative Catholic constitution.

Varadkar, who personally watched the votes being tabulated at the County Dublin ballot center, said the Irish capital looks to have voted around 70 percent in favor of gay marriage, while most districts outside the capital also were reporting strong "yes" leads. He said not a single district yet had reported a "no" majority. Official results come later on Saturday.

The anti-gay marriage side credited "yes" campaigners with running a creative, compelling campaign that harnessed the power of social media to mobilise young voters, tens of thousands of whom voted for the first time Friday. They also said a "no" victory was always unlikely given that all political parties and most politicians backed the legalisation of homosexual unions, just five years after parliament approved marriage-style civil partnerships for gay couples.

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