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German president signs gay marriage bill into law

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has signed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in the country. The change in legislation will take effect as of October 1 at the earliest.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier signed the "marriage for all" bill into law on Thursday, his office announced.

The final step in the process to legalize gay and lesbian marriage comes three weeks after the country's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, approved the legislation at the end of June.

Of the 623 votes cast, 393 lawmakers voted in favor of the motion, while 226 voted against it, and four abstained. The legislation was next approved by the German parliament's upper house, the Bundesrat, on July 7 before being sent to President Steinmeier.

Until now, Germany had only recognized civil partnerships between gay and lesbian couples, which came into legal effect in 2001. But unlike several other European Union member states that had already established full marital rights for same-sex partners in the past, "marriage for all" remained an elusive prospect for same-sex partners across the country for many years.

Read more: Hostile environment for homosexual refugees

Opposition remains strong

The issue, however, is not without controversy, as it was rushed through both houses of parliament before the summer break.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is running for a fourth term in general elections in September, was among those who had cast a "no" vote.

However, Merkel had allowed members of her conservative Christian Democrat Party (CDU) to vote according to their consciences and not along party lines. The CDU's long-standing opposition to same-sex marriage would otherwise have blocked the motion.

Lawmakers that remain staunchly opposed to "marriage for all" have threatened to have its legality checked by the Federal Court of Justice, the country's highest court.

Gay wedding (Reuters/T. Schwarz)

The prospect of legalizing gay marriage remains controversial, with some opponents threatening to take the issue to the country's highest court

Adoption for all

German Minister of Family Affairs Katarina Barley welcomed the move, saying "marriage is a question of love and responsibility and not of gender." Barley, whose center-left Social Democrats (SPD) had pushed for legalizing same-sex marriage, said that "marriage for everyone makes Germany a more modern country."

The main change between civil partnerships and marriage equality in German law means same-sex couples will be able to jointly adopt children.

ss/rt (dpa, AP)

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