- The measure must be signed by Uruguay's president
- If approved, Uruguay will become the second Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage
- The Catholic Church has vocally opposed the measure
- Backers say it's a matter of recognizing inherent human rights
Uruguayan lawmakers have approved a same-sex marriage measure, leaving just one more key step -- the president's signature -- before such couples can wed in the South American country.
A marriage equality bill passed the lower house Wednesday, with 71 of 92 lawmakers supporting the measure. The house approved a different version of the measure in December. Last week, Uruguay's senate approved the bill in a 23-8 vote.
If signed by President Jose Mujica, who has indicated he supports the measure, the proposal would make Uruguay the second country in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage and the 12th country in the world to do so.
Neighboring Argentina legalized such marriages in 2010.
In Argentina, the push to legalize same-sex marriage met with fierce opposition from the Roman Catholic Church, with Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio -- then the archbishop of Buenos Aires and now Pope Francis -- engaging in a notorious war of words with the government over the issue.
In Uruguay, the church has taken a similar tack, with officials describing the measure as a harsh blow to the institutions of marriage and the family.
"Why make relative or devalue an institution that is already so injured, like the family, introducing deep modifications that are going to confuse more than clarify?" the Rev. Pablo Galimberti, bishop of Salto, wrote in a recent post on the website of the Uruguayan Bishops Council.
Uruguay's Broad Front, a coalition of left-wing political parties, backs the measure. Last week, the group's president stressed that the proposed law changes a civil institution and has nothing to do with the church.
"Here we are speaking about RIGHTS, with capital letters. Rights that were denied and repressed for a long time, and which a society that is trying to be modern and inclusive necessarily must recognize, to advance in equality," wrote Sen. Monica Xavier. "Rights that are inherent to people, that are not a legislative creation, but something that the law must recognize."
Same-sex marriage has sparked debate and impassioned demonstrations from supporters and opponents in many countries.
Legislators in France and the United Kingdom are among lawmakers worldwide weighing proposals to legalize same-sex marriage. In the United States, the question of same-sex marriage went before the Supreme Court last month, and justices are now deliberating the matter.
The first same-sex couples walked down the aisle in the Netherlands in 2001. Since then, almost a dozen countries have passed laws allowing same-sex marriages and domestic partnerships, including Canada, South Africa, Belgium and Spain.
In 2009, Uruguay was the first Latin American country to allow same-sex couples to adopt children. It was also one the first Latin American countries to allow same-sex civil unions.
The measure approved by Uruguayan lawmakers Wednesday removes the words "man" and "woman" from the country's civil code and replaces them with the word "spouse," CNN affiliate Teledoce reported.