Montevideo - Uruguay's Senate has approved a bill legalising marriage between "two people of different or the same sex", moving a step closer to becoming the second Latin American country to okay gay marriages.
The bill passed the Senate with a more than two-thirds majority on Tuesday after a seven-hour debate, backed by the ruling Broad Front coalition and by some members of the opposition National and Colorado parties.
The lower house, which passed a different version of the bill in December, must vote again on the bill for it to become law.
Passage would make Uruguay the second nation in the region to approve gay marriage after Argentina, which did so in 2010. Same-sex marriage has been permitted in Mexico City since 2009.
Gay rights activists in the Senate gallery greeted the bill's passage with thunderous applause.
The bill defines civil matrimony as "the permanent union, under the law, of two people of different or the same sex".
It also makes changes in the law regarding adoption, paternity and inheritance.
"We are talking about liberties, that no one impose their morality on another," said Senator Rafael Michelini, of the Broad Front, at the start of the debate.
Uruguay's Catholic Church appealed during Easter week for the defence of the institution of marriage, but only eight opposition senators voted against the bill while 23 voted in favour.
Over the past six years, Uruguay has legalised civil unions for homosexuals and the adoption of children by same sex couples and opened the military to gays.