A gay marriage bill introduced Wednesday in Sweden's parliament enjoys broad support and is likely to pass, making Sweden the seventh country to grant gays and lesbians the right to marry.

The legislation aims to repeal a 1987 law defining marriage as a heterosexual union. A recent poll found that nearly three-fourths of Swedes (71%) approve of gay marriage.

Lawmakers in Sweden approved civil unions for gay couples in 1995. The law offers gay and lesbians the same legal status as married heterosexual couples, including the right to adopt.

Gay marriage in Sweden has remained in a holding pattern for years because two of the country's four major political parties opposed it. But an October 2007 Moderate Party endorsement broke that stalemate, leaving only the Christian Democrats opposed to the legalization of gay marriage.

While the proposed law would allow for pastors to opt out of performing gay wedding ceremonies, and the Lutheran Church has been blessing gay unions since 2007, the Christian Democrats and the Church say they would like to reserve the word “marriage” for heterosexual unions.

“My position is that I have been tasked by the Party to argue that marriage is for men and women,” Christian Democrat Leader Goran Hagglund told Swedish Radio in November.

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, the Moderate Party leader, is a strong supporter of gay and lesbian rights, voting for civil unions in 1994 when his Party disagreed.

“The main proposal in the motion is that ... a person's gender will no longer have any bearing on whether they can marry,” Reinfeldt said in a statement. “The marriage law and other laws concerning spouses will be rendered gender neutral according to the proposal.”

Under the timetable set out in the bill gay marriage would become available May 1.

The new legislation would make Sweden the first country in the world to allow gays to marry within a major church. Seventy-four percent of Swedes belong to the Lutheran Church.