MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay Lawmakers in Uruguay on Thursday voted to allow adoptions by gay and lesbian couples, as the tiny nation prepared to set a new precedent in Latin America.
The measure still needs to pass through the senate, a move considered a formality since it was already approved there on a first reading.
'Were deeply happy,' Mauricio Coitino, from the countrys Black Sheep Collective of gays, lesbians and transsexuals, told AFP after Thursdays vote.
'The main thing is that the project promotes equality for families with gay or transsexual parents, so they can raise their children with the same rights.'
Gay adoptions remain contentious worldwide, as illustrated by recent legal disputes on the issue from Germany to Florida.
Uruguay, a nation of some 3.5 million people, now moves another step away from its more conservative neighbours after having already authorized civil unions for homosexuals last year.
Lawmakers approved the move by 40 votes out of 53 with 13 voting against it, said Jaime Trobo of the opposition National Party.
The ruling leftist Frente Amplio coalition has a majority in parliament and had been expected to push the measure through.
Tabare Vazquez, the first leftist president in Uruguayan history, already opened access for homosexuals to military schools in May.
The countrys religious leaders and some right-wing politicians strongly opposed the latest move for homosexual rights.
The archbishop of Montevideo, Nicolas Cotugno, said before the vote that it would be a 'serious error to accept the adoption of children by homosexual couples.'
'Its not about religion, philosophy or sociology. Its something which is mainly about the respect of human nature itself,' Cotugno said in a statement.
The senate was due to vote on the measure before September 15, the end of a legislative period which was brought forward ahead of presidential elections in October.
Lawmakers said it would be approved before the deadline.
Gays and lesbians have in the past decade won the right to adoption in various European and North American states and territories, as well South Africa and parts of Australia.
The rights involved vary greatly, however, 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 persons offspring.