Members of Parliament in Norway today approved a bill that will allow same-sex couples to marry.

The new law, which passed by 84 votes to 41, will make marriage gender neutral.

The Scandinavian country already allows gay and lesbian couples to enter into civil partnerships, but LGBT rights groups had long complained the law does not go far enough.

In 2004 a similar law, which proposed to abolish the system of civil partnerships and replace it with one single gender neutral marriage law for all citizens, was rejected by the Norwegian parliament.

The new legislation will replace a 1993 law that gives gays the right to enter civil unions similar to marriage, but refuses them the right to church weddings or to be considered as adoptive parents.

As well as more equal partnership rights, it would expand the provision of parenting rights.

Family Issues minister Anniken Huitfeldt, introducing the bill in March, called it “an historic step towards equality.”

She also had a message for some members of Parliament who claimed the bill would weaken tradition marriage.

“The new law won’t weaken marriage as an institution,” Huitfeldt told Parliament.

“Rather, it will strengthen it. Marriage won’t be worth less because more can take part in it.”

About 85 percent of Norway’s 4.7 million people are registered as members of the state Lutheran Church of Norway, although far fewer are active.

Norway has historically had a tolerant attitude towards the LGBT community and has championed LGBT rights on the international stage.

Representatives from Norway delivered a short oral statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2006 in support of a resolution condemning human rights abuses involving LGBT victims.

The statement dealt with the most severe human rights abuses , such as violence, torture and death, directed against people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Norway, which is not a member of the EU, joins Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, South Africa and Canada in granting gay people full marriage rights.