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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Spain Legalizes Same-Sex Marriages

MADRID -- Parliament legalized gay marriage Thursday, defying conservatives and clergy to make predominantly Roman Catholic Spain the world's third country to officially recognize same-sex unions. Gay rights activists blew the lawmakers kisses after the vote.

The measure passed the 350-seat Congress of Deputies by a vote of 187-147 with four abstentions. The bill, a divisive plank in the ruling Socialists' platform for social reform, also lets gay couples adopt children and inherit property from each other. The bill is now law.

Gay couples will be allowed to marry as soon as the law is published in the official government registry, the Boletin Oficial del Estado. This could come as early as Friday or within two weeks at the latest, the parliament's press office said.

After the final tally was announced, activists watching from the spectator section of the ornate chamber cried, cheered, hugged, waved to lawmakers and blew them kisses.

Several members of the conservative opposition Popular Party, which vehemently opposed the bill, shouted: "This is a disgrace." Those in favor stood and clapped.

The Netherlands and Belgium are the only other two countries that recognize gay marriage nationwide. Canada's House of Commons passed legislation Tuesday that would legalize gay marriage by the end of July as long as the Senate also passes the bill, which it is expected to do.

"We were not the first, but I am sure we will not be the last. After us will come many other countries, driven, ladies and gentlemen, by two unstoppable forces: freedom and equality," Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told the chamber before the vote.

The gay marriage bill was the boldest and most divisive initiative of the liberal social agenda Zapatero has embarked on since taking office in April 2004.

The Roman Catholic Church, which held much sway over the government just a generation ago, when General Francisco Franco was in power, had adamantly opposed gay marriage.

In its first display of anti-government activism in 20 years, it endorsed a June 18 rally in which hundreds of thousands marched through Madrid in opposition to the bill. Some 20 bishops took part in the June 18 rally.

Late last year, a spokesman for the Spanish Bishops Conference, Antonio Martinez Camino, said that allowing gay marriage was like "imposing a virus on society -- something false that will have negative consequences for social life."

However, polls suggest Spaniards supported gay marriage. A survey released in May by pollster Instituto Opina said 62 percent of Spaniards supported the government's action on gay marriage, and 30 percent opposed it. The poll had a margin of error of 3 percentage points. But surveys show Spaniards about evenly split over whether gay couples should be allowed to adopt children.