The Dutch Senate was expected to give its approval Tuesday to a law allowing gay marriages and give same-sex couples the right to adopt children, in what will be the world's most comprehensive legal recognition of gay rights.
The vote by the upper house of the Netherlands parliament follows a similar one approved by an overwhelming majority in the country's lower chamber on September 12.
The Senate's approval is considered a foregone conclusion, since those in favor of the new law are in a clear majority. It began debating the issue Monday.
The vote will make legal what has already been taking place in the Netherlands.
Since 1998 same-sex couples have been able to register their partnership with local authorities to enjoy the same rights as heterosexual couples.
Almost 9,500 had done so by July this year, according to justice ministry figures.
But to avoid any tangled legal problems with other countries, under the new law, same-sex couples will only be allowed to adopt Dutch children.
"This restriction aside, homosexual couples will face the same rules and obligations as other couples," a justice ministry spokesman said, adding that the adopting parents must have lived together for at least three years.
Once approved, the law is expected to come into force in March or April 2001, said the spokesman.
Pope John Paul II has criticised the proposed law, saying no other relationship than that between a man and a woman should be recognized.
"As you know, the Catholic church is deeply attached to the view that marriage is a fundamental human reality and the basic unit of society," the pope said on October 23.
"No other relationship between two people can be considered on the same footing as that of a natural relationship between a man and a woman, whose love will yield children," he added.
"Societies need strong foundations to build on," he said.
Dutch church leaders also expressed regrets when the lower house of parliament passed the bill in September.
"We are not satisfied with this decision which we regret, but we knew it was going to happen," said the spokesman for the Dutch bishops, Peter van Zoest.
He added that the Catholic Church would continue to support registered partnerships, but thought the law went too far, upending the concept of marriage.
Representatives of the Protestant community also opposed the law's adoption, saying they feared the country's moral image would suffer abroad.
Legal recognition of same-sex partnerships is one of the primary battles waged by gay activists in developed countries, where homosexual rights have significantly improved in the past 10 years.
On October 1, 1989, Denmark became the first country in the world to authorize same-sex partnerships, followed by Norway in 1993 and by Sweden in 1994. All Scandinavian countries now allow homosexual couples to marry.
The state of New Jersey remains the sole region in the United States where, since 1997, gay couples have been able to adopt children -- THE HAGUE (AFP)
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