It's a new day in Latin America after the Argentine Senate approved a gay marriage bill early Thursday morning.

Following a rancorous debate that began shortly after noon on Wednesday and lasted more than 14 hours, senators voted in favor of the bill in a 33-27 vote.

“I believe this has advanced equal rights,” Senator Eugenio Artaza told reporters after the vote.

Argentina's lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, approved the bill in May, and its president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, backs the law.

Lawmakers approved the law over the objections of the Roman Catholic Church, which had called the movement to legalize gay marriage the devil's handiwork.

The church, to which 91% of the population claims allegiance, rallied thousands outside the doors of Congress as senators debated.

Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio said the devil was behind the bill that “aims to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

Gay marriage activists in the United States used the opportunity to call on politicians to follow Argentina's lead.

“Today's historic vote shows how far Catholic Argentina has come, from dictatorship to true democratic values, and how far the freedom to marry movement has come as twelve countries on four continents now embrace marriage equality,” Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, said.

“Key to Argentina's human rights achievement was strong leadership from legislators and the president. It is time we see more of our elected officials standing up for the Constitution and all families here in the United States,” he added.

Uruguay has led the region on gay rights. The country dropped its ban on gay troops serving in the military and gave gay couples the right to adopt children. It also recognizes gay and lesbian couples with civil unions. Mexico City approved a gay marriage law last December but the federal government has challenged the law in court.

But Argentina now becomes the first nation in Latin America to legalize gay marriage.

Some critics have charged that the president peddled the issue to boost her family's political dynasty. Former president Nestor Kirchner, now a congressman, is expected to try to regain the presidential palace next year.

Polling shows that nearly 70 percent of Argentinians support marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples.

Argentina becomes the third country to legalize gay marriage this year. Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva reluctantly signed a gay marriage bill into law on May 17, saying he was only doing so because lawmakers were certain to overturn his veto. Portugal's gay marriage law, however, forbids the adoption of children. And Iceland replaced its system of registered partnerships for gay couples first enacted in 1996 with marriage.