LONDON -- Queen Elizabeth II gave final approval Wednesday to Britain’s controversial same-sex marriage bill, bestowing her royal assent as is common to all new laws.
The measure passed its final legislative hurdle on Tuesday when the House of Commons approved the bill allowing same-sex couples to marry in religious and civil ceremonies.
The announcement in the House of Commons of the queen’s action prompted cheers from lawmakers.
Previously, gay and lesbian couples could enter into “civil partnerships” in Britain that carry almost the same rights as marriage. About 50,000 partnerships have been registered since 2005.
Under the new legislation, religious clerics of any denomination must “opt in” to offer religious weddings to same-sex couples. The Church of England is banned by law from celebrating such marriages, and several denominations still remain opposed to the idea, while others such as Quakers and liberal Jewish congregations are in favor.
The bill introduced in January has caused division among lawmakers, especially within the ruling Conservative party. Some of its members have accused the government of bulldozing the law through Parliament. Other Conservatives, including Prime Minister David Cameron, have voiced full support for the change.
Marriage for same-sex couples is already possible in France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain and Portugal.
The first same-sex marriages in England and Wales are expected to take place next summer, after government agencies work out logistical details and procedures for such unions, for gay couples already in civil partnerships to switch their status if they choose and for religious organizations to “opt in.”