German politicians have voted to legalise same-sex marriage in a snap vote only days after Chancellor Angela Merkel changed her mind to allow a free vote
A total of 393 politicians voted to legalising “marriage for everybody”, while 226 voted against and four abstained.
The bill will grant gay and lesbian couples full marital rights, including child adoption.
Ms Merkel, who has long opposed same-sex marriage, citing concerns over the welfare of children, voted against the measure.
But she paved the way for the vote after saying on Monday that politicians could take up the issue as a “question of conscience”.
The move freed members of her conservative coalition to individually vote for it rather than follow party lines.
Ms Merkel said though she voted against legalising gay marriage, she hoped Parliament’s approval of the measure would lead to more social cohesion.
“For me, marriage in the basic law is marriage between a man and a woman and that is why I did not vote in favour of this bill today,” she said.
Germany has allowed same-sex couples to enter civil partnerships since 2001, but same-sex marriages had remained illegal.
All of Ms Merkel’s potential coalition partners after the September 4 election, including the centre-left Social Democrats of her challenger Martin Schulz, have been calling for same-sex marriage to be legalised.
Many other European countries, including France, Britain and Spain, have already legalised same-sex marriage.
Ms Merkel’s announcement that she would allow politicians to vote on same-sex marriage according to their individual conscience drew the ire of some in her traditionally Catholic conservative bloc.
But political analysts say the issue will likely have faded from voters’ minds by the time the September election comes around.
The vote marks a rare victory for Ms Merkel’s Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners, who are trailing the conservatives in opinion polls.
They had seized on her surprise comments to say they would push for an early vote before parliament’s summer recess.
Success in passing the so-called “marriage for all” amendment could provide a sorely needed boost for the centre-left SPD, which has seen a short-lived boost in the polls earlier this year evaporate in recent months.
The measure will likely be signed into law by the President some time after July 7.
Germany has voted in favour of same-sex marriage, joining many other western democracies in granting gay and lesbian couples full rights, including adoption.
The German legal code was changed to say “marriage is entered into for life by two people of different or the same sex”, in the bill that was strongly supported by leftist parties.
The reform grants full marital rights, including child adoption, to gay and lesbian couples, who in Germany have been allowed since 2001 to enter so-called civil unions.
The lower house passed the bill by a margin of 393-226. The upper house has already approved it, and the measure is expected to enter into force before the end of the year.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said that she hoped the vote would bring about positive social change – but admitted she voted against it.
She said she believed marriage was between a man and a woman.
Gay and lesbian groups cheered the push for marriage equality in Germany where so-called civil unions were legalised in 2001.
“It’s a real recognition, so it warms the heart,” said French engineer Christophe Tetu, 46, who lives in Berlin with his partner Timo Strobel, 51.
“We’re thinking about having a party, getting married and using our new rights to protect our relationship,” he told AFP.
Strobel said he too was “overjoyed” the couple would be able to show family and friends “that we are committed to each other, that we will stay together and we will spend our lives together”.
The law is likely take effect before the end of 2017.
Renate Kuenast of the Greens party, which has pushed for decades for LGBT community rights, quipped cheerfully: “I would advise all registry offices in the country to boost staff numbers.”