Estonia first ex-Soviet state to legalise gay marriage

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A same-sex couple hold handsImage source, AFP/getty
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The bill has taken years of preparation - and caused passionate debate

Estonian MPs have voted to legalise same-sex marriage, the first former Soviet state to do so.

The bill, passed by 40 votes to 38 with 23 MPs abstaining or absent, gives gay partners similar rights to married couples.

Two-thirds of Estonians oppose the new law, a recent opinion poll suggested.

The Estonian Human Rights Centre welcomes the move that contrasts with neighbouring Russia which toughened laws restricting gay rights.

In Kyrgyzstan, another former Soviet republic, lawmakers considered legislation similar to Russia's that would criminalise gay "propaganda".

Under the new Estonian legislation - coming into force in 2016 - those in civil unions will now be eligible for state benefits afforded to married couples. They will not however, gain adoption rights though one partner can adopt the other's biological child. It also contains a provision allowing same-sex couples who are both infertile to adopt.