Gay groups in Australia are celebrating a landmark law passed in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) last night giving same sex couples the right to civil unions for the first time.

The local assembly approved the bill in a late night vote yesterday.

A spokesman for Federal Government Attorney General Phillip Ruddock, who along with Prime Minister John Howard had vowed to block the law, told the Associated Foreign Press, the government was happy with the changes made.

The main issue was that ceremonies would not be conducted by the federal state, although Mr Ruddock’s spokesman said he would be checking all aspects of the law.

ACT leader, John Stanhope, said the law will still “deliver recognition, without conflicting with or changing the meaning of marriage.”

Peter Furness of gay rights group, Australian Marriage Equality called the move a way for couples to “celebrate their love and commitment” and “a very significant step forward in our push towards full legal equality under Australian law.”