Uruguay is set to become the second South American country to legalize same-sex marriage, after the Lower House overwhelmingly approved the change in the nation's definition of marriage.
"This is a very special day, a historic day for Uruguay. The country is settling its debts with a large number of citizens who for the simple fact of loving someone of the same sex have suffered bullying and harassment," said Federico Graña, a member of local activist group Ovejas Negras, or Black Sheep, to local news portal Espectador. The Roman Catholic Church, however, has opposed this change and insisted that traditional marriage should be preserved.
The Lower House vote on Wednesday night ended with 71 lawmakers out of 92 approving gay marriage, while the Senate had already approved it by 23 votes to 8 earlier this month. President José Mujica is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming weeks, the Wall Street Journal explained.
Same-sex marriage has been gaining momentum in South America in recent years, with Argentina first legalizing the practice in 2010. Before this year's vote, Uruguay had already approved same-sex unions, and allowed gay couples to adopt children.
Almost half (or 47.1 percent of Uruguay's population) is Roman Catholic, and 11.1 percent is affiliated with other Christian denominations, the CIA World Factbook says.
The Vatican has maintained that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, and Uruguay's Catholic Church has said that lawmakers aren't aware of the legal consequences the official redefinition of marriage might have for religious institutions. They have also warned that gay marriage might affect society's views of the family.
Before the vote, the church had warned lawmakers not to be taken in by the "false pretext" of marriage equality, arguing that that is "not justice but an inconsistent assimilation that will only further weaken marriage."
Ignacio Zuasnabar, director of the Uruguayan pollster Equipos, revealed that while Uruguayans have largely embraced same-sex marriage, the society remains more split on issues such as the legalization of marijuana and abortion.
"There has been more acceptance of gay marriage in recent years as public opinion seems in favor of giving more rights to same-sex couples," Zuasnabar told BBC News.
"Things are different with other divisive subjects, like the possible legalization of cannabis and the recent law that approved abortions, which have more polarized views or simply a majority of people that disapprove of them," he added.