LEO VARADKAR, a gay lawmaker, was elected the leader of Ireland’s ruling Fine Gael party on Friday, making him the country’s prime minister-elect, set to take power after the Irish parliament reconvenes in 10 days.
Varadkar, a doctor who served as health minister, came out about his sexuality during a live radio interview in 2015. Born in 1979 to an Indian doctor from Mumbai and an Irish Catholic nurse from County Waterford, he will also become Ireland’s youngest-ever taoiseach — the Irish word for “leader” — and the first son of an immigrant to lead the nation.
After he made his sexuality public, Varadkar campaigned in favor of a ballot initiative that legalized gay marriage the same year. When that referendum passed by an overwhelmingly majority, the final total — 62 percent in favor and 38 percent opposed — alerted the world that Ireland had changed dramatically.
Varadkar has been criticized, however, for not moving quickly enough to repeal Ireland’s ban on abortion, which was reinforced in 1983, when 67 percent of the country voted to amend Ireland’s constitution, adding language that made “the right to life of the unborn” equal to the “right to life of the mother.”
He told The Irish Times last year that he disagreed with that amendment, but supported keeping right to life language in the Constitution. “What we have at the moment,” he said, “is this kind of absolute right to life where the unborn’s life is equal to that of a pregnant mother, I don’t agree with that. I think that is too restrictive.” He suggested that a broader definition of threats to the health of a mother should be considered.
Activists, including Colm O’Gorman, the executive director of Amnesty Ireland, began pushing Varadkar on the issue immediately after victory.
The Irish Times, which did not mention his sexuality in its own headline on Varadkar’s election, even ran a sidebar remarking on the fact that newspapers outside the country did: “Varadkar set to be ‘first openly gay Irish PM’, say world headlines.”
Ireland’s state broadcaster, RTE, which did not use the word “gay” in the main news report on its website, reported that Varadkar committed to holding a referendum on abortion next year in remarks to reporters after his victory.
He also told an RTE journalist that his top policy priority would be dealing with the implications of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.