BOSTON (CBS) – It’s been 11 years since gay marriage was legalized by the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts, the first state to do so in the U.S.

But a historic vote in Ireland Friday could make that country the first nation in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote.

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The debate over same-sex marriage in Ireland could come to an abrupt end with a historic referendum Friday.

Voters will agree or disagree to permit marriage between “two persons without distinction as to their sex.” The Yes campaign’s been vocal and positive and polls suggest they’ll win big.

“It’s more fair and it’s more equality it’s better for Ireland I think,” says a young Dubliner.

Led by the church, the opposition’s message “don’t discriminate against gays but don’t allow gay marriage” has been a tougher sell.

“Personally I believe same-sex marriage is most unnatural,” is the opinion of an older man on the street.

Irish history professor Robert Savage of Boston College says this is not your grandfather’s Ireland.

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What’s changed in Ireland that’s made this possible?

“First of all,” Savage says, “I think the Catholic Church does not have the power it once enjoyed.”

In addition every major Irish political party and big business endorsed the Yes campaign.

“They believe that Ireland should be seen as a welcoming country,” adds Savage, “that should acknowledge that nobody should be discriminated against for any reason whatsoever.”

A yes vote will mean Ireland has changed.

“It suggests that Ireland has moved on it’s not as conservative and Catholic as it has been in the past,” Savage says.

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Abortion is still illegal in Ireland unless the life of the mother is in danger, and divorce was legalized less than 20 years ago, so if gay marriage is approved as expected the cultural shift there will be enormous.

Paula Ebben