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Britain legalizes same-sex marriage

LONDON -- Britain legalized same-sex marriage Wednesday after Queen Elizabeth II gave her royal stamp of approval, clearing the way for the first same-sex weddings next summer.

Lawmakers cheered as House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said royal assent had been given, one day after the bill to legalize same-sex marriage in England and Wales cleared Parliament. The queen's approval, though a formality, was the last step necessary for a bill to become law.

The law enables gay couples to marry in both civil and religious ceremonies in England and Wales, although the Church of England is barred from conducting same-sex unions. Other religious organizations may opt-in, as they wish.

The law won't apply in Northern Ireland or Scotland, though the Scottish Parliament is considering a similar bill.

It also will allow couples who had previously entered into civil partnerships, which carry similar rights and responsibilities to marriage, to convert their relationships to marriage.

The British government introduced the bill in January. Prime Minister David Cameron had backed it, but it divided his Conservative Party and touched off strident debates in the Commons and in the Lords. -- AP

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