IRISH drag star and gay rights activist Panti Bliss, who is in Australia for the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, has told the Star Observer she is optimistic Ireland will vote for same-sex marriage in the country’s upcoming referendum.

However, she added that she doesn’t underestimate the opposition.

If Ireland votes yes on May 22 it will become the 18th country worldwide to legalise same-sex marriage including New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, the Netherlands, Uruguay and most parts of the UK.

Marriage equality is backed by Ireland’s four major parties while a January poll in Irish news publication The Journal said 76 per cent of voters plan to vote in favour of reform.

However, Bliss — who spoke to the Star Observer this weekend as she prepared to lead the Irish float on the Mardi Gras Parade down Oxford and Flinders streets — said the result was far less clear-cut.

“I think it will be very close but I am very cautiously optimistic,” the performer said.

“I think it will scrape through but it’s going to be difficult.”

Ireland’s still-influential Catholic church, alongside a number of conservative advocacy groups such as the Iona Institute, are campaigning for a no vote chiefly on the grounds that marriage is a vehicle for procreation.

Last week, the Irish Catholic Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran said gay people were already allowed to marry – just not each other.

Nevertheless, support for LGBTI inclusion is high on the Irish political agenda.

So much so that the Irish Dancing Queens parade entry, which Bliss was part of, was supported by Ireland’s consulate general and the government-backed Tourism Ireland body.

Bliss, who is a creation of Rory O’Neill and a major star in Ireland, said same-sex marriage was also inevitable in Australia.

“I think marriage equality is coming to everywhere eventually and the sooner everyone jumps on board the better,” she said.

“I wouldn’t want to be one of the last, I’d rather be in one of the first.

Bliss pinpointed the anomaly that could occur on the island of Ireland following a yes vote.

“What will be super embarrassing will be Northern Ireland because if it passes in the Republic then Northern Ireland will be the only part of the UK and Ireland that doesn’t have marriage equality,” she said.

While the UK’s first same-sex civil partnerships in 2005 occurred in Northern Ireland’s capital of Belfast, the largely self-governing region has yet to introduce same-sex marriage.

This resistance has continued despite the other nations of the UK – England, Scotland and Wales – all introducing same-sex marriage last year with polls in Northern Ireland showing the population is split on the issue.

If Ireland voted yes “there will be this tiny little spot left in the middle,” Bliss said of Northern Ireland.

This witty pro-marriage equality video depicts an Irish family struggling to cope with “armagayddon” following a yes vote:

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