Ireland’s Constitutional Convention has voted overwhelmingly in favour of holding a referendum on legalising same-sex marriage.

This afternoon 79 out of 100 convention members voted in favour of allowing same-sex marriage in the Irish Constitution. 81 voted in favour of enacting laws to give “appropriate” protections to the same-sex parents of children, and 78 voted that the laws should be enacted throughout Ireland, rather than on a state-by-state basis.

The Convention was set up last year by the Irish Government to examine possible changes to the Irish Constitution, among them the possibility of legalising same-sex marriage.

It consists of 33 parliamentary members of the Dail (Irish lower house) and Seanad (Irish senate) and MLAs from Northern Ireland, 66 members of the public, and an independent chairperson.

On Saturday the Convention gathered in Dublin to hear over 1000 submissions in the debate from legal experts, rights groups, religious organisations, and individuals.

Mark Kelly, the Director of the Irish Council of Civil Liberties, submitted in support of same-sex marriage: “We already have civil partnership, this is simply another small incremental step. At the end of the day, this has got nothing to do with sexual orientation, and I find it surprising that the church are obsessed with that and with the gender question.”

Changing Attitude Ireland (CAI), the Anglican Church of Ireland’s pro-gay group, submitted in March that “the existing inequalities between civil partnership and civil marriage as having a real world detrimental impact on the lives of same-sex couples, and even more on children being raised by them.”

Christopher Jones, the chairman of the Catholic bishops’ Council for Marriage and the Family, announced earlier this month that he would submit his opposition to a referendum to the Convention.

He said: “To treat same-sex relationships and marriage as the same and therefore ‘equal’ would be to suggest that same-sex unions can be something that they are not.”

Following today’s vote the Irish Government will have four months to respond.

Earlier this year a poll commissioned by Marriage Equality Ireland showed that the percentage of people in support of equal marriage had risen by 12%, since 2008, and in 2012 was 75%.