South Africa's parliament passed a bill Tuesday giving same-sex couples the legal right to marry or have a civil union. It's the first African country to approve same-sex marriage.

The ruling African National Congress ordered all MPs to support the Civil Union Bill, despite objections from religious and traditional leaders.

The bill calls for the "voluntary union of two persons, which is solemnized and registered by either a marriage or civil union."

South Africa's current Marriage Act defines marriage as a "union between a man and a woman."

It must now be signed into law by President Thabo Mbeki.

A constitutional court last year gave the country's parliament until Dec. 1 to make same-sex marriage legal, saying it was against South Africa's constitution to discriminate on the grounds of sexual preference.

The bill will co-exist with the Marriage Act.

In Africa, homosexuality is still largely taboo. It is illegal in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana and most other sub-Saharan countries. Even in South Africa, gays and lesbians are often attacked because of their sexual orientation.

With files from the Associated Press