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Law legalizing same-sex marriage in Argentina takes effect as president signs bill at ceremony

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — President Cristina Fernandez signed a new law Wednesday making Argentina the first country in Latin America to legalize marriage for same-sex couples.

Civil registries across the nation will now begin processing long lists of marriage applications from gay couples. The first such ceremony in Buenos Aires is set for Aug. 13.

"Today we are a society that is a little more egalitarian than last week," Fernandez said at the signing ceremony.

Representatives of groups for gays and lesbians cheered, crying out "Equality, equality!"

The law, which was approved by the Senate last week following earlier endorsement by the lower house, grants same-sex couples the full legal protections and responsibilities that marriage gives to heterosexual couples, including the ability to inherit property and to jointly adopt children.

Mexico's capital was the first city in the region to legalize gay marriages.

"We must all get used to living in a free country, in harmony," said designer Roberto Piazza, who attended the signing.

He said he planned to take advantage of the law and marry his partner soon.

The bill was pushed by Fernandez's left-of-center administration, worsening its already strained relations with the Roman Catholic Church.