Ireland votes by large margin to liberalize divorce laws

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LONDON (AP) — Irish voters have overwhelmingly endorsed a plan to liberalize the country's constitution to make it easier for couples to divorce, election officials said Sunday.

Just over 82% of voters endorsed removing a requirement that couples be separated for four of the previous five years before they can divorce.

It will fall to Ireland's Parliament to come up with new legislation to govern divorce. The country's Fine Gael party-led government has proposed halving the separation period to two years.

Divorce was banned in the largely Roman Catholic country until 1995. Ireland has seen rapid social change in recent years. In 2015 the country voted to legalize same-sex marriage, and last year voters opted by a two-to-one margin to end a constitutional ban on abortion.

Culture Minister Josepha Madigan told RTE News that voters had shown compassion by "humanizing the system."

"I think it's an emphatic, unequivocal result, and even though we have a very low marital breakdown in Ireland, it just demonstrates the amount of people who stand in solidarity with them," she said.

Voter turnout in the referendum was just over 50%.

Results are still being tallied in Ireland's local elections and a vote for seats in the European Parliament.

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