The lower house of the Czech parliament approved a law legalizing civil partnerships for same-sex couples on Friday, in spite of strong opposition inside Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek’s coalition government.

The Christian Democrats, the second largest group in the three-party government, refused to support the legislation, arguing that it damaged the traditional perception of the family.

However, many Communist Party deputies sided with Mr Paroubek’s left-wing Social Democrats, the main government party, to approve the bill, which could face a rough ride in the opposition-dominated Senate.

According to a lower house press official, 86 of the 147 deputies present voted in favour of the law while 54 were against and the rest abstained. Fifty-three others were not present during the vote.

The Prime Minister, Mr Paroubek supported the law, though he could not attend because of a European Union summit.

The new rules allow same-sex couples to officially register their relationship. It also allows access to information on the health of a gay partner.

If the Senate rejects the legislation, the lower house can override it with an absolute majority of 101 in the 200-seat lower house.

Earlier this year, Spain legalized gay marriage. The Netherlands and Belgium also both allow gay marriage whist the first gay marriages will be held in Britain this week.

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