Ireland may be on its way to elect a gay president after the first opinion poll in the race showed Senator David Norris, a Dublin-based gay activist, well-ahead.

The election to replace current president Mary McAleese is still a year away, but early indications are that it could be an historic vote.

Norris, 66, polled 20 percent of those surveyed, twelve percent ahead of the two next candidates. They are Michael D. Higgins of the Labor Party and Fergus Finlay, head of Barnardo’s children’s charity agency.

Former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern was in fourth place with five percent, and several candidates are at two percent, including another  former Prime Minister, John Bruton.

The size of the Norris lead is surprising. The Joyce scholar and gay rights campaigner is an independent senator representing Trinity College in the Irish senate and has never been considered a candidate for national office.
Norris is most famous for taking the Irish government to the European Court to decriminalize homosexuality. He was successful in 1988 after a long legal battle

A protestant, he was actually born in what was then the Belgian Congo in 1944 but came to Ireland a few years later. He has also played a major role in popularizing Bloomsday, now celebrated on June 16th every year.

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