Germany’s parliament backed the legalization of same-sex marriage on Friday in a historic vote hailed by gay activists and leftist parties but criticized by some in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling conservative bloc and by the Catholic Church.

The move brings Germany into line with many other European nations including France, Britain and Spain and follows Merkel’s surprise decision this week to allow her lawmakers to follow their own conscience rather than the party line on the issue. Merkel, daughter of a Protestant pastor, voted against the bill.

Hundreds of gay activists, some with painted faces, celebrated outside the Bundestag lower house of parliament after the vote, waving rainbow flags and placards that read “Marriage for all – make love for all”.

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