Ireland goes to the polls tomorrow in a historic referendum that could see it become the first country to legalise gay marriage in a popular vote.

The vote has been billed as a battle between the Catholic Church and the state - all the major political parties back a 'yes' vote - but there are several high-profile Catholics supporting a change in the law as well.

Father Peter McVerry, a Dublin priest whose charity work has earned him a Pride of Ireland Lifetime Achievement award, told our sister paper i:

For me it is a matter of equality. I think we ought to recognise the love that exists between two people of the same sex; that’s not a problem for me. It’s essentially a civil matter that marriage is being regulated by the state and I don’t think the church should impose its own moral code on people who may not believe it.

Receiving hate mail has had no effect on Father McVerry's views.

I’ve had some correspondence, shall we say, from right-wing Catholics telling me I’m going against the word of God and the teaching of the church. I don’t accept that for a second. Even if one accepts the church’s position – which I don’t – that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered, we can’t legislate for the moral code of the Catholic Church.

He added:

If this referendum fails I think it would send an appallingly negative message to people that are lesbian or gay. It would say that they’re not equal in the eyes of society.

Sister Stanislaus Kennedy is one of Dublin's best known nuns. The 75-year-old, who founded a charity for homeless people, said:

I am going to vote Yes in recognition of the gay community as full members of society. They should have an entitlement to marry. It is a civil right and a human right.

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