LONDON: The British Parliament has voted to legalise gay marriage, after an afternoon of passionate argument. More than 70 MPs had their say in a lively but mainly polite and very British debate, as hidebound tradition and Anglican values clashed with the principles of ''live and let live'' and equality.
Both sides emphasised respect for other points of view, despite deep divisions.
One MP cited Shakespeare, another Orwell, another Elton John, and one talked about the importance of allowing everyone, regardless of sexual preference, the opportunity of a long-lasting marriage - even if it descends into ''bickering over the biscuits''.
The bill passed its second reading vote at 6.15am Wednesday, Australian time, with 400 in favour and 175 against. It will now go to a committee for detailed examination starting next week.
After that, it is predicted that it will pass the House of Commons with strong support from Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs. The Conservative Party, however, is torn down the middle on the issue. Britain already has civil partnerships between gay couples. The new law would allow marriage in civil ceremonies and in religious ceremonies if a church allows it.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, allowed his colleagues a conscience vote on the issue.
The Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, introduced the second reading of the bill with a speech aimed at countering the concerns of many of her colleagues, who frequently interrupted her, asking about the impact on schools and religious freedoms.
''Every marriage is different,'' she said. ''The depth of feeling, love and commitment is no different between same-sex couples. Marriage should be defended and promoted.''
In a heartfelt speech, the Labour MP Yvette Cooper said ''we all love a good wedding'', with its ''cloud of confetti'' and rubber chickens - and also loved the idea of a long, stable marriage where partners still care for each other ''even while bickering over the biscuits''.
However, many Conservative voices, and several Labour ones, were raised in opposition to the proposed law. Some said they were angry that opponents of the bill were being branded homophobic or ''barking [mad]''.
Tony Baldry said the bill would end marriage as it had been understood ''for all recorded time''. Robert Flello said the bill would create inequality because there would be two forms of marriage, traditional and same-sex.
Across the Channel, the French parliament began its second week of a marathon gay marriage debate. In a seven-day slanging match, the French right has attempted to draw out the proceedings for as long as possible. More than 5300 amendments have been tabled by the opposition, some of which were absurdist, such as the demand that polygamous and incestuous marriages be legalised.
The weekend sitting was the first time in more than eight years that the parliament has sat through Saturday and Sunday.
A senior Russian Foreign Ministry official said approval of gay marriage harms the chances of citizens of those countries adopting Russian children.
''The British and French parliaments have legalised same-sex marriages. This narrows the chances of the citizens of these countries adopting Russian children,'' the foreign ministry's human rights envoy, Konstantin Dolgov, wrote on Twitter.
The Russian parliament late last year caused an outcry by agreeing to a blanket ban on adoptions of Russian children by US families. Some Russian officials have indicated support for taking the ban further and only allowing Russian children to be adopted in Russia.
with Guardian News & Media, Agence France-Presse