DUBLIN, Ireland — The Irish people voted against scrapping the constitutional ban on divorce, reaffirming themselves as Western Europe's staunchest bastion of Roman Catholicism, final results showed Friday.
The outcome of Thursday's referendum, which rejected divorce by a 3-2 margin, was a huge rebuff to the government's pro-divorce campaign and immediately stirred questions about the future of Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald's reformist administration.
The deeply conservative countryside triumphed over the pro-divorce national newspapers and a government that initiated the referendum and staked its prestige on victory.
Almost 1.5 million of the 2.4 million eligible voters cast ballots in this island republic of 3.5 million people. About 97% of the population is Catholic.
The no votes totaled 63.5% to 36.5% in favor of divorce, reported Radio Telefis Eireann, the state broadcasting network.
It said 935,842 people voted no, and 538,279 voted yes.
The conservative countryside rejected divorce by 3-to-1 and 4-to-1 margins. The only districts of the country's 41 constituencies that favored divorce were seven of 11 constituencies in liberal Dublin.
The referendum proposed amending the constitution so divorce would be possible if a marriage had broken down for five years "with no reasonable possibility of reconciliation."
FitzGerald has been trying to liberalize Irish society and make Ireland's marriage law more compatible with practice in the Protestant-majority British province of Northern Ireland.
"I am delighted and give thanks to God that the people have been delivered from the evil of a divorce culture," exulted lawmaker Alice Glenn, who defied her governing Fine Gael (United Ireland) party in opposing the amendment.
FitzGerald said he regretted the result but felt it a duty to bring the issue before the people. "You can't win them all but you keep on trying to achieve what you can," he said in The Hague, Netherlands, where he attended a Common Market summit.
Pro-divorce campaigners reacted angrily.
"Ireland has disgraced itself again. It has disappointed all those people trapped in broken marriages," said Jean Tansey, leader of the Divorce Action group, which led the fight for legalized divorce.
Ireland's 1937 constitution says: "No law shall be enacted providing for the grant of a dissolution of marriage." The country does not recognize divorces granted abroad to Irish citizens.
The vote left Ireland the only European country besides the Mediterranean island of Malta that obliges couples to stay married for life.
It represented a stunning turnaround from nine weeks ago, when the government initiated the referendum in near certainty of victory.
Officials of the Labor Party, FitzGerald's junior coalition partner, which was most committed to divorce reform, accused Fine Gael politicians of failing to campaign vigorously for fear of alienating conservative voters.
No Place in Politics
FitzGerald had said when he came to office four years ago that if he failed to implement reforms, he might have no place in politics.
Few thought the referendum defeat was cause for resignation, but it came at a bad time for FitzGerald, who trails in the polls and has disenchanted many voters with his high-tax, high-unemployment policies.
Within four hours after vote-counting started, Fine Gael conceded defeat, and recriminations began inside the pro-divorce camp.
Political commentator John Cooney said the amendment was defeated by politicians' apathy, the church's firm anti-divorce stand, and the secular Anti-Divorce Campaign's success in selling the idea that divorce would harm women and children and infringe on their pension and inheritance rights.