In a victory for gay rights activists, German lawmakers voted Friday to legalize same-sex marriage.
Activists waved rainbow flags and cheered as the lower house of parliament voted 393-226, with four abstentions. The decision follows similar action in some other Western countries. The decision came days after Chancellor Angela Merkel said lawmakers were free to take up the issue as a "question of conscience." Merkel and members of her conservative bloc had opposed the legalization of marriage between two members of the same sex.
Civil partnerships have been legal in Germany since 2001, but same-sex marriage had been illegal.
"This is simply a historic day for Germany," said Soeren Landmann, a marriage equality activist. "Today, thousands of same-sex couples were given equality, and the two-class society in matters of love was abolished. Germany can really rejoice today."
Amnesty International's Europe director, John Dalhuisen, welcomed the vote, saying, "Germany has become the 23rd country to recognize same-sex marriage and has sent a clear message to the world that gay and lesbian people should be entitled to the same rights as everyone else and to full and equal protection of the law."
Merkel said she voted against the bill because she believed marriage as defined under German law was between a man and a woman. Merkel said her decision was a personal one.
"I hope that the vote today not only promotes respect between the different opinions but also brings more social cohesion and peace," she said.
The Catholic Church said it regretted the decision.
The measure still needs to be approved by the upper house of parliament.