On Monday, as expected, lawmakers in the tiny and overwhelmingly Catholic European republic of Malta passed a bill legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples, over the reported objections of Pope Francis.
The vote was 37 members in favor and 30 members abstaining; the abstentions came from members of the opposition party, who agreed with civil unions but opposed extending adoption rights to same-sex couples.
The Times of Malta reports that equality supporters who gathered outside Parliament for the historic occasion burst into applause:
The controversial law on civil unions was approved by Parliament this evening amid loud cheers and celebrations by about 1,000 people who gathered on Palace Square...
There was an explosion of cheers in Palace Square as the vote was taken... the façade of the palace was lit in the rainbow colours. Earlier Dr Muscat was greeted with applause as he arrived at Palace Square on his way to Parliament. Other Labour MPs arrived wearing the colours of the gay community on their lapels.
Some of those present set up a big wedding cake on the square. Others said they were already preparing their union, now that the bill was becoming law. Sparklers and wedding veils were handed out. There were cheers and cries of 'Joseph, Joseph' when Dr. Muscat emerged from the Palace after the vote, and loud boos and cries of 'shame on you' for the Opposition MPs.
Dr. Muscat addressed the crowd from a stage on one side of the square. This, he said, was a historic day and he was proud to be one of those 20 per cent in favour of civil unions. He then repeated parts of the speech he made earlier in Parliament.
One of those present, a young man, said: "I am feeling privileged to be witnessing history and experiencing equality this early in my lifetime when so many others were forced to wait their entire lives in vain. Tonight's party in Valletta is not for people like me but for all those who fought their whole lives to be able to celebrate their love without distinction but did not live to see this day."
As if that weren't amazing enough, Maltese lawmakers did another incredible thing: they became the first country in Europe to add gender identity protections to their national constitution.
Details after the jump.