Britain has formally legalized gay marriage after Queen Elizabeth II gave her royal stamp of approval, clearing the way for the first same-sex weddings to begin next summer.
House of Commons Speaker John Bercow announced Wednesday that royal assent had been given to the "Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill," which legalizes same-sex unions in England and Wales. The bill cleared Parliament earlier this week -- the queen's approval is a formality and the last step necessary for a bill to become law.
"The law enables gay couples to get married in both civil and religious ceremonies in England and Wales, provided that the religious institution consents," the Associated Press reports. "The Church of England, the country's official faith, is barred from performing such ceremonies."
The new law also allows couples who had previously entered into civil partnerships — which were introduced in 2005 and carry similar rights and responsibilities to marriage — to convert their relationships to marriage.