As Ireland marks Sunday's first anniversary of its same-sex marriage referendum, activists and the government are hailing the "historic day" when it became the world's first country to endorse marriage equality by popular vote.

"It has been a year of great celebration on a personal level as well as the broader political level," says Sandra Irwin-Gowran, director of education policy at the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, a non-governmental organization.

Irwin-Gowran married her partner of 17 years in April. "It was a wonderful day for us. It has been a very positive year which has brought new-found confidence to lesbian and gay people in Ireland," she told dpa.

The government recorded more than 400 same-sex marriages in the six months since the law was enacted.

"The marriage equality referendum was a historic day for Ireland," Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar, an openly gay member of the cabinet, said on Friday.

"One year on, it's really great to see that 412 marriages have now taken place which otherwise would not have happened," Varadkar said.

"It's a timely reminder of that momentous vote on that momentous day."

Irwin-Gowran said there had been "lots of joyous occasions" since the referendum.

One such occasion was the January wedding of Ireland's new Minister of Youth and Children's Affairs, Katharine Zappone.

She and her partner, Marie Louise Gilligan, had married in Canada but took an unsuccessful case to the High Court in 2006 to have their marriage recognized under Irish law.

Zappone's activism and community work led to her appointment to the Senate and eventual election to parliament in February 2016, when she became the first openly lesbian member.

Irwin-Gowran says that such high-profile people have "created a visibility around gay relationships" that has enabled others to come out.

"It's amazing the number of people who are coming out. In Dublin, you regularly see gay people holding hands in the street now and that has come with confidence where before there was silence and invisibility."

There is still work to be done, she says. "We need to work to make sure that the intention of those who voted 'yes' filters down into the reality of people's lives. Many people are not necessarily feeling accepted in their everyday lives."

"Research shows that one in five young LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) young people feel fully accepted in their schools," Irwin-Gowran says.

She believes there is a grey area in Catholic schools where, on a "doctrinal" level, the Church does not accept gay equality, yet the law of the country does.   

"Many schools feel motivated by their religious beliefs to be supportive and inclusive. The attitude of the school leadership is what counts for the rest of the school," she says.

"The 'yes' vote created a climate where many people could come out and that this is very positive," Irwin-Gowran says. "This weekend will be a time of celebration, but with a reminder that the journey is not over."

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