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Britain steps closer to gay marriage; backers cheer

British lawmakers took another big step toward allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed this week.

A bill allowing same-sex marriages cleared its last hurdle in Parliament on Tuesday, according to British news reports. After a two-hour debate, the House of Commons did not oppose a number of minor changes made by the House of Lords, which approved the bill Monday. The House of Commons had already voted in favor of marriage for same-sex couples.

The Telegraph newspaper reported the legislation could be sent to the queen for her signature before the end of the week.

The moves brought cheers from gay-marriage backers. This brings "us tantalizingly close to legal recognition for same-sex marriages in our Quaker meetings," Paul Parker, recording clerk for Quakers in Britain, told the Guardian newspaper.

The BBC created an extensive Q&A explaining how the gay marriage law would work and its effect on religious institutions.

Marriage for same-sex couples is already possible in France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain and Portugal.

As The Times' London Bureau chief, Henry Chu, reported in February, the votes "handed Prime Minister David Cameron, whose administration sponsored the legislation, both a political victory and a political defeat. Approval of the bill allows him to portray himself and his government as in tune with public opinion and modern values, but it came at the cost of an angry mutiny by his own Conservative backbenchers, who said he had no mandate to press for such a change."

Here is some more more background on the issue from a story Chu wrote in December:

"Religious groups in favor of conducting same-sex weddings include the Quakers and some liberal Jewish congregations. Currently, gay and lesbian couples can enter into 'civil partnerships' in Britain that carry almost the same rights as marriage. About 50,000 partnerships have been registered since 2005."

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