A law allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry took effect in Germany on Sunday.

The German parliament, or Bundestag, approved the law in June with a 393 to 226 vote, making Germany the 14th European country and the 23rd worldwide to extend marriage to gay couples.

For decades advocates have tried and failed to gain such rights. But an opportunity to move on the issue appeared suddenly when Chancellor Angela Merkel signaled that she would support a free vote on marriage equality among her party members. The window to act also appears to have been short lived as German politics shifted to the right in last weekend's election.

Since 2001, Germany has recognized gay and lesbian couples with civil partnerships. The new law offers tangible benefits such as the right to adopt children and tax advantages offered only to married couples.

Karl Kreile, 59, and Bodo Mendle, 60, became Germany's first married gay couple when they exchanged vows in the town hall of Schoeneberg, a borough of Berlin, after 38 years together, the AFP reported.

According to the AP, about 120 people packed into Schoeneberg town hall's “Golden Room” to witness the wedding.

“We have finally achieved legal equality,” Mendle said at a news conference on Friday. “It's been 25 years of hard struggle to secure this.”