MONTEVIDEO Uruguay's Congress passed a bill on Wednesday to allow same-sex marriages, making it the second country in predominantly Roman Catholic Latin America to do so.
Seventy-one of 92 lawmakers in the lower house of Congress voted in favour of the proposal, one week after the Senate passed it by a wide majority. Leftist President Jose Mujica, a former guerrilla fighter, is expected to sign the bill into law.
"I agree that family is the basis of society but I also believe that love is the basis of family. And love is neither homosexual nor heterosexual," said opposition lawmaker Fernando Amado of the centre-right Colorado Party.
Uruguay is the 12th country to pass a law of this kind, according to Human Rights Watch. In Latin America, Argentina also has approved gay marriage and it is allowed in Mexico City and some parts of Brazil.
Roughly half a million people marched through Paris in January to protest the legalization of same-sex marriage, underscoring opposition to the measure in the heart of Western Europe.
In Uruguay, a nation of about 3.3 million people sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil, critics of the bill included the Catholic Church and other Christian organizations, which said it would endanger the institution of the family.
"We are opposed to this bill because we understand it distorts and changes the nature of the institution of marriage," said opposition lawmaker Gerardo Amarilla.
Damian Diaz, a 25-year-old teacher who is in a committed relationship with a man, said he was heartened by the move.
"We're definitely going to feel now that we live in a place where we're recognized for who we are, where we get more respect and more acceptance," he told Reuters Television.
(Additional reporting by Diego Perez; Writing by Hilary Burke; Editing by Bill Trott)