The measure passed in the lower house of the German Parliament, which is known as the Bundestag, by 393-226 vote margin with four abstentions.
The vote took place less than a week after Chancellor Angela Merkel announced her position on whether to allow a vote on the issue had changed.
She told the editor of a German magazine that she recently had dinner with a lesbian couple who are raising eight foster children. Merkel, who is a member of the conservative Christian Democratic Party, voted against the bill.
The Social Democratic, Green and Free Democratic Parties all back marriage rights for same-sex couples. Friday’s vote took place ahead of elections that are scheduled to take place on Sept. 24.
Germany since 2001 has allowed gays and lesbians to enter into civil partnerships. It is among the last countries in western Europe that have not extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.
Gays and lesbians can legally marry in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Spain, Portugal, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Iceland. Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who won re-election earlier this month, said his government plans to introduce a same-sex marriage bill.
The German bill is expected to become law by the end of the year.
“After years of waiting and hoping, rainbow families in Germany will now receive equal recognition under the law,” said ILGA-Europe Executive Director Evelyne Paradis in a statement. “This is a historic milestone that can inspire even more change for LGBTI people.”
Ty Cobb, director of Human Rights Global, also welcomed the vote.
“With the very serious challenges the LGBTQ community continues to face around the world, this is welcome news and an important victory in working to ensure LGBTQ people are embraced as full members of society,” he said.
Friday’s vote took place a day before up to three million people are expected to line the streets of Madrid for the WorldPride parade. Hundreds of advocates from across Europe have been attending LGBT rights conferences and other events in the Spanish capital this week.
Lars Vorberger is a member of the board of directors of Rainbow Rose, the LGBT network of the Party of European Socialists, who lives in the German city of Hamburg. He described the vote as “really wonderful” as he spoke with the Washington Blade on Friday during a Rainbow Rose and Party of European Socialists conference that is taking place at the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party headquarters in Madrid.
“It’s great to really celebrate this big decision and the big step we took this morning in Germany,” said Vorberger.
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