The northern Mexican state of Coahuila became the first in the country to approve gay unions yesterday. Mexico City passed similar legislation in November.

The Insititutional Revolutionary Party were responsible for bringing the bill before the legislature, where it passed by 20 votes to 13.

The state’s governor, also a member of the PRI, is expected to sign the bill into law.

The new civil unions grant a range of social benefits to gay and lesbian couples.

Coahuila is one of Mexico’s 31 states. It is in the north of the country, and has a land border with Texas along the Rio Grande and has a population of around 2.5 million people.

The new pro-gay law has been criticised by the Roman Catholic Church and the conservative National Action Party of President Felipe Calderon, Associated Press reports.

As reported on PinkNews.co.uk, Buenos Aries in Argentina and the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul have passed similar laws on same-sex unions recently.

In November, lawmakers in the capital, Mexico City, passed a measure granting same-sex partnership rights within the city limits, becoming the first in the country of 106 million people to do so. The law excluded adoption rights for gay and lesbian couples.

Mexico has a thriving gay scene in urban areas and the area around Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta is referred to as Mexico’s “gay belt.”

Outside these areas though attitudes are more conservative, with the Roman Catholic Church still exerting a lot of influence in rural areas.