Lawmakers in the small island nation located south of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea also approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban anti-LGBT discrimination.
“Malta is now more liberal and more European and it has given equality to all its people,” said Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who leads the country’s Labor Party, after the vote as Reuters reported.
Paulo Côrte-Real, co-chair of the ILGA-Europe Executive Board, also applauded the vote in the predominantly Catholic country that only legalized divorce in 2011.
“We warmly welcome today’s historic vote for Malta and particularly pay tribute to Maltese politicians and Maltese LGBTI activists,” he said. “The adoption of the civil union law is a result and an example of a successful partnership built between the decision makers and the civil society.”
The Associated Press reported opposition lawmakers from the conservative Nationalist Party abstained from the vote. Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna of the Archdiocese of Malta is among those who also spoke out against the civil unions and second-parent adoption measure.
Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Portugal and Spain are among the countries in which same-sex couples can legally marry.
The movement to extend marriage rights for gays and lesbians has also advanced in other parts of Europe over the last year.
Same-sex couples began to tie the knot in England and Wales on March 29.
A law that will allow gays and lesbians to legally marry in Scotland takes effect later this year. Gay Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who took office last December, said he hopes his country will extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians in 2014.
An Italian court last week ruled the Tuscan city of Grosseto must recognize the marriage of a gay couple who tied the knot in New York in 2012.
The Irish government next year will hold a referendum on whether to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.
Croatian voters last December overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Hungary, Latvia and other European countries also prohibit gay nuptials.
Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili late last month proposed a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman in the former Soviet republic. The country already bans nuptials for gays and lesbians.