In a historic vote hailed by gay activists and leftist parties, Germany’s parliament has approved the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Hundreds of campaigners celebrated outside the Bundestag Lower House of Parliament after the vote, waving rainbow flags and placards that stated “Marriage for all – make love for all”.
The decision brings Germany into line with many other European nations including France, Britain and Spain and follows Chancellor Angela Merkel’s surprising determination this week to allow her lawmakers to follow their own conscience rather than the party line on the issue.
Lawmakers voted by 393 votes in favor of same-sex marriage to 226 against, with four abstentions.
However, Merkel daughter of a Protestant pastor, voted against the bill.
The move has been criticized by some in her ruling conservative group and by the Catholic Church.
The vote has particular resonance in Germany as it unwinds a legacy of homophobia.
Earlier this year parliament agreed to grant compensation to thousands of gay men jailed under a 19th century law that was strengthened by the Nazis and only dropped in 1969 when homosexuality was decriminalized in West Germany.
Merkel, who is seeking a fourth term in a national election on September 24, said she had voted against the bill because she believed that marriage as defined under German law was between a man and a woman.
But she said her decision was a personal one, adding that she had become convinced in recent years that same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt children.
“I hope that the vote today not only promotes respect between the different opinions but also brings more social cohesion and peace,” she said.
Same-sex marriage became a hot election topic after three parties – the Social Democrats (SPD), the pro-business Free Democrats and the Greens – each made it a condition for joining any future coalition with Merkel’s conservatives, effectively forcing her hand. The SPD is part of the current coalition.
The right-wing, anti-Islam Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which opposed marriage equality, accused Merkel of “abandoning the last conservative nuances her party had”.
Political analysts say the issue will likely have faded from voters’ minds by the time the September election comes around.
A survey by pollster INSA for daily Bild showed this week that three quarters of Germans favored the legalization of same-sex marriage.
The same-sex bill will be signed into law by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier some time after July 7.