Belgium became the second country in the world Thursday to legalize same-sex marriages after the Belgian parliament overwhelmingly adopted a law giving gay couples almost the same nuptial rights that straight couples enjoy.
The legislation, which was passed by the senate in November, was approved by 91 of the 122 deputies in the lower house of the Belgian parliament, having followed years of heated debate.
The coalition government of Liberals, Socialists, and Greens welcomed the adoption of the controversial law. "Mentalities have changed," said justice minister Marc Verwilghen during a late-night debate before the law was voted through. "There is no longer any reason not to open marriage to people of the same sex."
The legislation, which will go into effect this summer, gives married gays and lesbians more rights than cohabiting same-sex couples and almost identical rights to those enjoyed by married heterosexual couples. Married gays will automatically have inheritance rights to the goods and property of their deceased partner and will receive the same fiscal breaks as heterosexual couples. However, unlike same-sex couples in the Netherlands--which became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2001--Belgian gay couples will not be allowed to adopt children, nor will the lesbian partner of a mother be considered the parent of the child.
The majority of parliamentarians argued that the new law grants legal, not biological, rights. However, Green and Socialist members said they regret the denial of an adoption clause.
"In spite of the very symbolic value of this law and the positive signal it sends to the gay community...it remains blatantly hypocritical in one respect," said Socialist deputy Karine Lalieux. "A single person can adopt a child, but not a homosexual couple."