A top judicial panel on Tuesday ruled that gay and lesbian couples in Brazil could not be denied marriage licenses.

The National Council of Justice, which oversees the country's judiciary, ruled that notary publics cannot deny a gay couple's request for a marriage license.

“This is the equivalent of authorizing homosexual marriage in Brazil,” Raquel Pereira de Castro Araujo, head of the human rights committee of the Brazilian bar association, told the AFP.

“It is a major step that will ensure equality among heterosexual and homosexual couples,” Carlos Magno Fonseca, president of the Brazilian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Association, is quoted as telling reporters by the AP.

The ruling comes two years after the nation's Supreme Court ruled that the constitution guaranteed gay couples the same rights as heterosexual couples, but volleyed the issue of marriage back to legislators.

The decision prompted several couples to petition the court system to convert their civil unions into full marriages, with mixed rulings. Fourteen of Brazil's 27 states have decided to convert the unions automatically, effectively legalizing marriage for gay couples.

A marriage bill has stalled in Congress but Tuesday's ruling has renewed calls by groups to approve the proposed legislation.