The African continent is not known for gay rights, but South Africa has now created a landmark in the region after passing a law allowing same sex marriage.

The Civil Unions Bill was passed today by 230 votes to 41, allowing the “voluntary union of two persons, which is solemnised and registered by either a marriage or civil union.”

Despite being given an opt out clause, allowing ministers to refuse to perform ceremonies if it is against their “conscience, religion and belief,” religious groups have still expressed unease at the law.

African Christian Democratic Party leader Kenneth Meshoeprovoking warned that it would “provoke God’s anger.”

All members of the ruling African National Council were ordered to vote for the law.

The legislation, making South Africa the first on the continent to allow same sex unions, is pretty non-committal, avoiding references to whether the partners are gay or straight.

It has also dissatisfied some gay groups who feel it gives them unequal status to straight couples and runs contradictory to current marriage laws which define the institution as a male and female union.

Last December the Constitutional Court of South Africa ruled that same-sex marriages should enjoy the same legal status as those between men and women, thereby giving the parliament a year to amend the 1961 marriage law.