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A total of 393 politicians voted to legalising "marriage for everybody", while 226 voted against and four abstained.

The move freed members of her conservative coalition to individually vote for it rather than follow party lines.

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The issue has divided Ms Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU/CSU) party, which remains the largest in the German parliament and has enjoyed comfortable poll leads and local election victories ahead of September’s federal elections.

Political analysts said that despite condemnation from critics over her no vote, Ms Merkel had trodden a careful line on same-sex marriage.

Indeed, the average East German man, unless he had managed to gin a foothold in the regime’s upper echelons — but what woman would want a man like that?

— wasn’t in a position to boast any typically macho privileges.

The move brings Germany into line with many other European nations including France, Britain and Spain, and follows Ms Merkel's surprise decision this week to allow her politicians to follow their own conscience rather than the party line on the issue.