Gay and lesbian couples may marry in Sweden starting today.

Swedish lawmakers approved a gay marriage bill in April, making it the seventh country to legalize gay marriage.

The measure was approved in the Swedish Parliament by a wide margin – 261 to 22, with 66 lawmakers abstaining or absent.

The legislation repeals a 1987 law defining marriage as a heterosexual union. A recent poll found that nearly three-fourths of Swedes (71%) approve of the new law.

Sweden has recognized civil unions for gay and lesbian couples since 1995. The union offered gay couples the same legal status as married heterosexual couples, including the right to adopt. The Lutheran Church, which was the state church until 2000, offered a separate religious blessing for gay unions.

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.

The new law allows gay and lesbian couples to wed in a religious or civil ceremony, but church weddings will have to wait until later this year when the Lutheran Church formally decides on the matter in October.

“The new law implies a change in the marriage ceremony, and the Church has be given a chance to take a stand on that,” the church's interim secretary general, Anders Lindberg, told AFP.

Gay marriage is legal in six other countries including Spain, South Africa, Norway, the Netherlands, Canada and Belgium. Four U.S. states – Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa and Vermont – currently offer gay nuptials.