The German parliament, or Bundestag, on Friday passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriages in a snap vote that made it onto the agenda before the summer break after a surprise shift by Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The bill passed by 393 to 226, with four abstentions. Merkel herself voted against the bill, although her comments helped bring it about.
However, more than 70 members of Merkel's conservative bloc must have voted in favor of the bill for it to pass.
Merkel later explained her "no" vote by saying that she understood the definition of marriage in the German constitution as referring solely to unions between men and women. She said, however, that she hoped the vote to approve gay marriage would lead to "more social peace."
Although she voted against homosexual marriage, she said that after long reflection, she had come to the conclusion that same-sex couples should be able to adopt children, which is something the new bill will legalize. Volker Beck of the Green party, who has long advocated legalizing same-sex marriage, called the vote "a success for democracy," citing opinion polls showing that 80 percent of Germans were in favor of allowing homosexual couples to marry and adopt children.