Colombia's Constitutional Court on Tuesday mandated the legal recognition of gay couples.

A majority of the 9-judge panel agreed that gay and lesbian couples have the right to form a family and gave Congress two years to legislate on gay unions, Bogota-based El Tiempo reported.

“If by the 20th of July, 2013 Congress has not acted, gay couples can go to a notary and with the same solemnity of a heterosexual marriage enter a union similar to one between a heterosexual couple,” said Judge Juan Carlos Henao, the court's president.

Whether the ruling means full marriage for gay couples remains to be seen.

“The name of the institution, be it civil marriage or otherwise, will be up to Congress,” the court said.

The nation's Roman Catholic bishops last week urged the court to uphold Colombia's current law that restricts marriage to heterosexual couples.

Last year, Argentina became the first Latin American country to approve marriage equality. Gay and lesbian couples can also marry in the city-state of Mexico City. Mexico's highest court has ruled that all states must recognize the marriages of gay couples originating from Mexico City.