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Leo Varadkar, Ireland's Gay Prime Minister, Resigns

Leo Varadkar

Varadkar's orientation has been a nonissue, but housing shortages and other problems eroded support for his party. 

Leo Varadkar, one of the highest-ranking openly gay elected officials in the world, has offered his resignation as Ireland's prime minister, although he will continue as a "caretaker" until a new government is formed.

His party, Fine Gael, had failed to win a majority in parliamentary elections February 8, and no other party did either, leading to "political deadlock" in Ireland, CNN reports.

Parliament then voted Thursday on the prime minister, with a candidate needing 80 votes to win. Varadkar received just 36, with the support of all members of his party plus one other. Micheal Martin, from the Fianna Fail party, received 41 votes, and Mary Lou McDonald, of Sinn Fein, won the most, 45. The other parties refuse to form a coalition government with Sinn Fein, which was once the political affiliate of the Irish Republican Army, so Martin may end up leading a coalition with Fine Gael.

Popular support for Sinn Fein has surged due to its promises to work for affordable housing and better health care. But the other parties see it as radical due to its ties with the IRA, which had a history of violence.

Varadkar came out during Ireland's marriage equality referendum in 2015, when the nation ended up legalizing same-sex marriage by popular vote. He was then Ireland's health minister. When he became prime minister in 2017, he was not only the nation's first gay prime minister but its youngest one -- he was then 38 -- and the first one from an ethnic minority group; his father is Indian and his mother is Irish. His sexual orientation was a nonissue in the election and his governing.

"He was seen as a symbol of a fast-liberalizing Ireland, overseeing the country's relaxation of its strict anti-abortion laws just years after Ireland legalized same-sex marriage," CNN notes. But housing shortages and crumbing infrastructure stirred opposition.

Parliament adjourned until March 5, and the parties will try to form a new coalition government by then. "The responsibility is now on all of us to make sure we provide good government and indeed good opposition," Varadkar said Thursday, according to the BBC.

Until a new government is formed, Varadkar said, he and his party will avoid major policy decisions "unless absolutely necessary" and then only after getting input from other parties, The Guardian reports.

During his tenure, Varadkar visited the U.S. several times. He and his partner, Matthew Barrett, met with notorious homophobe Mike Pence in 2019, and on the same visit he gave a speech at the Naval Observatory praising diversity. He then surprised Chicago's LGBTQ community at the Sidetrack bar for St. Patrick's Day. He also famously criticized the Catholic Church for its sexual abuse scandal, in front of Pope Francis during the pope's visit to Dublin in 2018.

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