The Congress in Uruguay has passed a bill allowing adoption by gay and lesbian couples to adopt children.

The legislation is expected to pass in the Senate, where the ruling party has a majority.

The Senate will vote on the bill next month.

In December 2007, Uruguay’s parliament passed legislation to recognise same-sex civil unions.

The country of 3.6m people was the first nation in South America to grant such protections, although some cities and regions throughout the continent have made similar legal provisions.

The Congress passed legislation creating a civil union registry for same-sex and unmarried heterosexual couples who have lived together for at least five years.

In May Uruguay lifted a ban on gays serving in its military.

The ban was imposed under the 1973-85 military dictatorship. Under it, people with “open sexual deviations”, which includes homosexuality, were banned from entering the military academies.

The ban also included homosexuality among the “mental illnesses and disorders” that legally made a person unsuitable to join the armed forces.

Gay adoption has been opposed by the Roman Catholic Church in Uruguay.

Archbishop of Montevideo Nicolas Cotugno told the Catholic News Agency:

“The adoption of children by homosexual couples is not a question of religion, philosophy or sociology. It has to do with respect for human nature itself.

“To accept the adoption of children by homosexual couples is to go against human nature itself, and consequently, it is to go against the fundamental rights of the human being as a person.”