Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has praised passage of Latin America's first gay marriage law, calling it a “positive step,” Telam reported.

Senators approved the gay marriage bill early Thursday morning following a marathon 15 hour debate.

After rejecting its own committee's recommendation to take up a bill that recognizes gay and lesbian couples with civil unions but does not allow for adoption, the Senate voted in favor of the gay marriage bill in a 33-27 vote. The country's lower chamber voted in favor of the bill in May.

Religious groups had fiercely opposed the legalization of gay marriage. The Roman Catholic Church, to which 91% of the population claims allegiance, rallied thousands outside the doors of Congress as senators debated the bill on Wednesday.

Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio urged Catholics to reject gay marriage and claimed that the devil was behind a movement that “aims to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

Speaking to the Argentine press during a state visit to China, Kirchner said she endorsed passage of the bill “mostly because I was not in agreement with the discourse surrounding the debate.”

In earlier remarks, the president had called the church's tone reminiscent of “medieval times and the Inquisition.”

“The fact that there was talk of a war against God, for example, showed a radicalization that was not positive in any way,” she said.

She likened passage of the gay marriage bill to civil rights struggles of the past, including the women's suffrage movement, then added that in that context “we can understand this as a positive step that defends the rights of the minority.”

Chief of Staff Anibal Fernandez said the bill puts Argentina at the forefront of gay rights in Latin American.