Germany legalised same-sex marriage Friday despite the personal objections of Chancellor Angela Merkel, as the nation joined many other western democracies in granting gay and lesbian couples full rights including adoption.
The election-year bill was pushed by Merkel's leftist rivals, who pounced on comments she made early this week suggesting a policy U-turn -- a manoeuvre that left her conservative lawmakers fuming.
Merkel allowed MPs of her Christian Democratic Party (CDU) to vote their conscience on the bill rather than follow the party line, which has for years been to oppose the reform.
The gay marriage law passed by a margin of 393 to 226 on the parliament's last day before the summer recess -- a moment jubilant supporters celebrated by throwing confetti in the Bundestag.
The reform reflects German public opinion, with polls showing three-quarters support granting full marriage rights to same-sex couples, who have since 2001 been allowed to live in so-called civil unions.
But Merkel said she had voted against the legalisation out of her personal conviction.
"To me, marriage as defined in the German constitution means the marriage between husband and wife, and that is why I voted against the law today," she said.
She did however say that her thinking had changed on the question of child adoption by same-sex couples, which she long opposed.
"I have thought a lot about the matter of child welfare and have now... have come to the conviction that same-sex couples should be able to jointly adopt children," she said.
The German legal code will change to say "marriage is entered into for life by two people of different or the same sex".
The upper house has already approved the measure, which is expected to enter into force before the end of the year.
Renate Kuenast of the Greens party, which has pushed for decades for LGBT rights, quipped cheerfully: "I would advise all registry offices in the country to boost staff numbers."
- 'Warms the heart' -
"Germany voted for love," said the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany, celebrating the "historic day... for a more just and democratic society".
"It's a real recognition, so it warms the heart," said French engineer Christophe Tetu, 46, who lives in Berlin with his partner Timo Strobel, 51.
"We're thinking about having a party, getting married and using our new rights to protect our relationship," he told AFP.
Strobel said he too was "overjoyed" that the couple would be able to show family and friends "that we are committed to each other, that we will stay together and we will spend our lives together".
The rapid series of events kicked off with an on-stage interview Merkel gave Monday to women's magazine Brigitte, in which an audience member asked her: "When can I call my boyfriend my husband if I want to marry him?"
Merkel, who had long opposed gay marriage with adoption rights, replied that she had changed her mind after meeting a lesbian couple who lovingly cared for eight foster children.
She said she favoured an eventual vote when all lawmakers could follow their conscience rather than a party line.
- 'Breach of trust' -
Many read the surprising comments as a move to rob opposition parties of a key campaign issue before September 24 elections.
Merkel's current coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD), had declared a gay marriage law a red-line demand and precondition for any future alliance -- as had the Greens, the far-left Linke and the pro-business Free Democrats.
On Tuesday, after much buzz on social media, the SPD leader and candidate for the chancellory Martin Schulz took Merkel at her word and broke coalition ranks to call for an immediate vote.
The CDU slammed the tactic as a "breach of trust" after four years of joint rule with the SPD.
During Friday's emotional parliamentary debate, one SPD lawmaker angrily criticised Merkel, accusing her of "pathetic and embarrassing" meandering on the issue.
"Mrs Merkel, thanks for nothing!" said Johannes Kahrs, charging that she had blocked progress on gay and lesbian rights for years.
He characterised her Monday-night comments as a "Schabowski moment" -- a reference to the communist East German official Guenter Schabowski, whose fumbling comments at a 1989 press conference sparked the mass rush to border crossings that brought down the Berlin Wall.