April 1, 2009 / 7:33 PM / 10 years ago

Sweden votes in favor of legalizing gay marriage

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden will allow homosexuals to legally marry from May this year after parliament on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly in favor of the move.

The change in the law, which currently allows gay couples to register unions but not formal marriage, comes into force on May 1 this year under the timetable set out in the bill.

Scandinavian countries, known for their liberal attitudes toward gays and lesbians, were among the first countries in Europe to grant same-sex partners the same rights as married couples.

Sweden gave same-sex couples the right to form a union via registered partnerships in the mid-nineties and made it legal for them to adopt in 2002.

The passage of the bill was widely expected and the final tally was 261 votes in favor of the bill and 22 opposed.

“The decision means that gender no longer has an impact on the ability to marry and that the law on registered partnership is repealed,” the government said on its website.

The Christian Democrats, part of the four-party coalition government, refused to back the bill.

The new legislation eliminates legal distinctions between heterosexual and homosexual spouses, but does not force dissenting clergy to wed gay couples.

The Swedish Lutheran church, which split from the state in 2000, has said it was open to celebrating and registering same-sex unions, although it wanted to reserve the term matrimony for heterosexual marriages.

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