The Maltese parliament legalized same-sex unions and gay adoption on Monday in a 37-0 vote, signaling a major change in social policy for a conservative country where Catholicism is the state religion.
"Malta is now more liberal and more European, and it has given equality to all its people," Labour Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said.
The opposition Nationalist Party abstained from the vote, saying that although it supports civil unions, it has doubts about adoption rights for gay couples.
A crowd of hundreds of people, gathered outside parliament in the capital Valletta, cheered the passage of the law.
The Catholic Church in Malta opposed the legislation. Bishop Charles Scicluna said that although the proposal had some good points, it was not in the best interests of children.
Although traditionally a staunchly Catholic country, Malta has become more culturally liberal in recent years. In 2011, the island nation legalized divorce in a popular referendum.
slk/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)