DUBLIN, Feb 13 (Reuters) - A former Irish government minister announced he was gay on Friday and appealed to older voters to support same-sex marriage in a May referendum in the traditionally conservative Catholic country.
Two decades after Ireland legalized homosexuality, polls show overwhelming support for same-sex marriage but the church says it would be "a grave injustice."
Pat Carey, 67, who served as minister for equality until 2011, said one of his reasons for speaking out was a concern that the initial support might be eroded quickly unless his Fianna Fail party and others campaigned more actively.
"I think this referendum will be won by the mothers of Ireland," Carey told broadcaster RTE, saying his sexuality caused no difficulty for his family and that he was sorry he had not had the courage or confidence to speak up before now.
"Maybe my perspective might be helpful to people my age. I'd say there are lots of men and women of my generation who have the same difficulty that I had in trying to come to terms with how you articulate your gender issues."
Carey said his decision to speak publicly had been helped when health minister Leo Varadkar, 36, became the first openly gay minister last month.
Carey said the word gay was not used when he was growing up in rural Ireland. Gay people were instead regarded as being "a bit odd," but things had changed.
"I think we're a more gentle society, we're more tolerant. Ratifying the marriage equality referendum will help along that road and I frankly don't think the sky is going to fall in," he said. (Reporting by Padraic Halpin; editing by Andrew Roche)