South Africa's lower house of parliament has approved a controversial bill allowing same-sex marriage, making the country the first in Africa and one of only five in the world to do so. The civil unions bill, which passed with 230 votes in favour, 41 against and three abstentions, is in keeping with South Africa's progressive constitution, which explicitly bans discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. However, the strong parliamentary support for the legislation - explained partly by the fact that the ruling African National Congress ordered its members to vote for the bill regardless of their personal convictions - belies deep divisions within South African society over the issue. The government presented the bill following a constitutional court ruling last December giving parliament 12 months to amend marriage laws to allow homosexual unions. The bill must now be approved by the national council of provinces, the upper house of parliament, before it can pass into law.