Austria will begin recognizing civil unions on New Year’s Day 2010, following the parliament’s passage of a civil union bill on Dec. 10.
The bill will give same-sex couples many of the rights enjoyed by their heterosexual counterparts, including access to a pension if one partner dies and alimony in the event of a split.
“We are living in the 21st century and I’m very glad this step is being taken today,” Justice Minister Claudia Bandion-Ortner said during parliamentary debate leading up to the vote.
And, unlike straight couples, gay couples will not be able to record their unions at the civil registry office but with another authority instead. The issue led to heated debate in recent weeks, with critics saying it clearly signals that a same-sex partnership isn’t given the same weight as a marriage between a man and a woman.
Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek, a Social Democrat who is the country’s minister for women’s affairs and fought against the registration differences, described the vote as “the first step in the right direction.”