REYKJAVIK, Iceland -- Parliament today narrowly approved legislation removing Iceland's 73-year old ban on the consumption of beer, presenting prohibitionists with a staggering defeat.
The legislation, drafted annually but heretofore always doused by prohibitionists, was passed 13 to 8 in the wee-hours of the morning following lengthy and often emotional debate. It will permit the local sale of beer beginning next March.
The debate in the upper chamber of the Althing, Iceland's parliament, was broadcast live across the North Atlantic island nation.
Throughout the night, parliament's switchboard was jammed by would-be beer drinkers seeking the latest details of the debate.
In the past, teetotalers in parliament have been successful in filibustering the attemptsto legalize beer. But last-minute motions to delay the vote failed.
Two amendments, one calling for an alcohol awareness campaign and the other specifying that finance and health ministers approve the price of beer, were defeated in 12 to 9 votes.
Any change in the bill would have sent it back to the 42-man lower chamber and delayed final action until the fall.
Prohibitionists, harkening back to their Viking ancestors who were turned wild by mead, said legalization of beer will exert a negative influence on the nation's younger generation.
'Beer will mean a tremendous increase of drinking by young people and, as a mother of two teenagers, I say no to this,' said Margret Frimanndottir, a member of parliament from the Communist Leftist People's Alliance.
Iceland currently permits the brewing of beer for export, and residents are permitted to consume wine and liquor.
Under threats from Spain to stop buying Icelandic saltfish, Iceland excluded wine from the general prohibition in 1922. When liquor also was legalized in 1935, the beer ban was maintained to appease the powerful temperance lobby.
The ban was supported by the public for decades, but opinion polls in the 1980s showed that two-thirds of Icelanders favored turning on the beer taps.
In 1985, Parliament passed a law allowing all travelers entering the country to bring in 1.6 gallons of foreign beer, or 2.1 gallons of Iceland's export-only brew.
On April 18, for the first time, the beer bill cleared the lower chamber.
But observers said they did not believe today's vote will end the annual struggle in Parliament. They said prohibitionists likely will try to revoke the legislation in the years to come.