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Britain legalizes gay marriage

LONDON (AP) -- Britain on Wednesday legalized gay marriage 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 was a formality and is the last step necessary for a bill to become law.

The law enables gay couples to get married in both civil and religious ceremonies in England and Wales, although the Church of England is barred from conducting same-sex unions. 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 House of Commons and House of Lords.

Photo Courtesy of Huffington Post