Gay couples in Norway will be granted the same rights as heterosexuals to marry, adopt and undergo artificial insemination under a new equality law passed today.
Norway's upper house of parliament voted 23-17 in favor of the gender-neutral marriage law on the same day that gay couples were marrying in California.
The law replaces 1993 legislation that gave gays the right to enter civil unions similar to marriage but did not allow church weddings or adoption. It takes effect Jan. 1.
"We are so overjoyed. We have worked for this for so long," said Jon Reidar Oeyan, leader of the Norwegian National Association of Lesbian and Gay Liberation.
"Now we are going to celebrate," he said. "I didn't dare until I heard the chairman of the upper house bang the hammer."
A parliamentary majority had announced agreement on the legislation last month, and the lower house voted 84-41 in favor last week.
Opponents, including the Christian Democrats and the Party of Progress, argued that children need both a mother and a father in a traditional family; opposed assisted pregnancy for lesbians, and said the law was rushed through the legislature.
The law gives individual congregations and clergy the right but not the legal obligation to perform wedding ceremonies for gay couples.
About 85 percent of Norway's 4.7 million people are registered as members of the state Lutheran Church of Norway, although far fewer are active.
Since the church is split on gay marriage, the church is likely to allow each congregation to decide on whether to allow gay wedding ceremonies, as it did last year in allowing parishes to decide whether to accept clergymen living in gay partnerships.
In 1989, Denmark became the world's first country to allow civil unions for gays, similar to Norway's outgoing law. In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country to offer full marriage rights to gay couples.