DUBLIN (AP) — Prime Minister Enda Kenny says Ireland's voters will be asked to legalize gay marriage, a government-backed measure that reflects rapid social change in the predominantly Catholic nation.

Kenny told lawmakers Tuesday that the government would subject its planned Marriage Equality Bill to a public referendum in May, though a precise date has not been selected. The vote is needed to amend the family section of Ireland's 77-year-old constitution.

<p ">Ireland legalized civil partnerships for homosexual couples in 2011. Such partnerships confer weaker legal rights than for a married couple on matters of child custody and welfare access, particularly in event of relationship breakdown.

Recent Irish opinion polls indicate around three-fourths of voters support legalizing gay marriage. More than a dozen nations and most U.S. states already have taken the step.