Two women are wrapped in a rainbow flag as they attend a LGBT rally in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Pics/AFP
Two women are wrapped in a rainbow flag as they attend a LGBT rally in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Pics/AFP

Germany's parliament backed the legalisation of same-sex marriage on Friday in a historic vote hailed by gay activists and leftist parties but criticised by some in Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling conservative bloc and by the Catholic Church.

The parliament voted by 393 votes in favour of same-sex marriage to 226 against. The measure will likely be signed into law by the president some time after July 7. The move brings Germany into line with many other European nations and follows Merkel's surprise decision this week to allow her lawmakers to follow their own conscience rather than the party line on the issue. Merkel, daughter of a Protestant pastor, voted against the bill.

Hundreds of gay activists celebrated outside the Bundestag lower house of parliament after the vote, waving rainbow flags and placards that read "Marriage for all – make love for all". Merkel, who is seeking a fourth term in a national election on September 24, said she had voted against the bill because she believed that marriage as defined under German law was between a man and a woman. But she said her decision was a personal one, adding that she had become convinced in recent years that same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt children.