Uruguay lawmakers Wednesday adopted a trailblazing law allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt children, in an unprecedented move in Latin America. Senator Margarita Percovich told AFP the contentious bill had passed its final hurdle with 17 out of 23 senators voting in favor of the legislation.
It was approved by lawmakers from the ruling leftwing Frente Amplio and the opposition Colorado Party, while the opposition National Party voted against, she added.
The Senate approved a draft bill in July, but it had to win a second vote due to slight changes to the text introduced when the lower house passed the legislation last month.
The adoption law was backed by President Tabare Vazquez and his ruling coalition but faced strong condemnation from the Roman Catholic Church.
Gay adoptions remain contentious worldwide, and Uruguay, a nation of some 3.5 million people, is taking another step away from its more conservative neighbors after having already authorized gay civil unions last year.
Vazquez, the first leftist leader in Uruguayan history, already opened access for homosexuals to military schools in May.
The Catholic Church disapproves of the bill because "from Genesis in the Bible, it says that 'God created man and woman,'" Bishop Paul Galimbertti told AFP.
The archbishop of Montevideo, Nicolas Cotugno, blasted the legislation clearing adoptions by homosexual couples as a "serious error."
"It's not about religion, philosophy or sociology. It's something which is mainly about the respect of human nature itself," Cotugno said in a statement before the vote.
In the past decade, gays and lesbians have won the right to adoption in various European and North American states and territories, as well as South Africa, Israel and parts of Australia.
Such rights vary greatly, though, with some permitting gay couples to adopt children who are not related to them, and others only allowing the gay partner of a biological parent to adopt that person's offspring.
"Uruguay has a long tradition of leading the way in civil rights and has shown a desire to move ahead quickly on such questions," said social sciences professor Adolfo Garce of Montevideo University.
The large wave of European immigration to the country in the 20th century, particularly from Spain, has given it "a progressive and secular culture," he added.
Uruguay was the first country in the largely Catholic South American region to approve divorce in 1907, and gave women the right to vote in 1932.
But abortion remains illegal, after President Vazquez vetoed a proposed bill last year which would have legalized the terminations of pregnancies on "ethical grounds."