Colombia has become the fourth Latin American country to legalise same-sex marriage, following a ruling by country’s highest court.
The ruling, by the Constitutional Court, allows gay couples to get married in the same way as heterosexual couples for the first time.
As part of the proceedings, President Juan Manuel Santos’ government argued in favour of marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples.
Colombia joins Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay as the only Latin American nations to have legalised same-sex marriage. Argentina was the first to take the decision in July 2010.
“The judges affirmed by a majority that marriage between people of the same sex does not violate constitutional order,” presiding Judge Maria Victoria Calle told the court, AFP reports.
“The definition of the institution of marriage in civil law applies to them in the same way as it does to couples of the same sex.”
Thursday’s ruling had been anticipated after the constitutional court dismissed a petition against equal marriage rights for heterosexual and same sex couples on 7 April.
Six of the court’s nine judges approved the ruling that “all people are free to choose independently to start a family in keeping with their sexual orientation… receiving equal treatment under the constitution and the law.”
Previously gay couples in the conservative Roman Catholic nation were only allowed to form civil unions.
However, these partnerships often occupied a grey legal area with many officials refusing to register such unions as congress had not enshrined equal marriage rights in law, prompting protests from gay rights campaigners.
Around 70 unions previously registered as civil partnerships will now be automatically converted into full marriages under the new ruling, Alberto Rojas, the judge who presented the motion told AFP.
The decision will become an irrevocable constitutional ruling within a month, making it legally valid.
To date 21 countries, including, Colombia have legalised same-sex marriage, the first being the Netherlands in 2001.
In Mexico, gay marriage is legal in the capital and in certain other states.
Additional reporting by Associated Press
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