updated 7/20/2005 6:16:10 PM ET 2005-07-20T22:16:10

Canada became the fourth country in the world to legalize gay marriage nationwide after a landmark bill was signed into law on Wednesday.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin signed the bill, and it was read in the House of Commons and Senate, making it law. The Senate voted late Tuesday to adopt the legislation to legalize gay marriage despite fierce opposition from Conservatives and religious leaders.

The bill grants same-sex couples legal rights equal to those in traditional unions between a man and a woman, something already legal in eight of Canada's 10 provinces and in two of its three territories.

The legislation drafted by Prime Minister Paul Martin's minority Liberal Party government easily passed the Senate, which essentially rubber stamps any bill already passed by the House of Commons, which passed it late last month.

The Netherlands, Belgium and Spain are the only other nations that allow gay marriage nationwide.

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