"LONDON — Same-sex couples began marrying in London a minute after midnight on Friday, signifying the culmination of a campaign to end a distinction many British gay couples said made them feel like second-class citizens.
"Saturday was the first day that gay couples were allowed to tie the knot in England and Wales after the government legalized same-sex marriage in July.
"Gay couples have been allowed since 2005 to enter “civil partnerships,” conferring the same legal rights as marriage, but campaigners say the distinction gives the impression that society considers gay relationships inferior.
"Gay marriage has faced opposition from most religious groups despite shifting public attitudes in Britain in favor of it.
"The Church of England, which leads the world’s 80 million Anglicans, has struggled to reconcile rifts within its ranks over homosexuality as it seeks to tackle rising secularism and falling attendance rates.
"The leading Muslim, Catholic and Sikh groups in Britain were all against the passage of the same-sex marriage law.
"While the number of countries legalizing gay marriage has grown significantly since the Netherlands made the first move in 2000, only 17 currently allow gay couples to marry.
"France legalized it last year despite several protests drawings hundreds of thousands onto the streets of Paris.
"Scotland, which will hold a referendum on independence from Britain in September, was the latest country to pass same-sex marriage legislation last month, despite strong opposition from the Scottish Catholic Church and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
"In some other parts of the world, governments have been moving in the opposite direction, clamping down on gay rights.
"Uganda attracted international opprobrium in December when it passed a controversial law that makes some homosexual acts punishable by life in prison. Homosexuality is illegal in 37 African countries.
"Russia also faced criticism over a law signed by President Vladimir V. Putin last year banning the spread of “gay propaganda” among minors.
"In England and Wales, homosexuality was decriminalized in 1967, starting off a series of reforms to give gay people the same rights as everyone else."