MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Women legislators and activists were exuberant Wednesday over Congress' approval of a hotly debated bill that would make rape by a spouse a crime.

The Law against Domestic Violence outlines prison sentences of between eight and 14 years for those convicted.

``This bill is a victory that women have been looking for for many years,'' independent congresswoman Carolina O'Farril said.

The measure, which passed the lower house 254-90 on Tuesday, split the three major parties. Some members of the right-center National Action Party objected to treating husbands the same as strangers in rapes.

``Should a husband be given the same sentence as a rapist?'' asked National Action congressman Emilio Gonzalez.

If approved by the Senate, the bill would go to Mexico's president to be signed into law.

Expert reports prepared for the debate indicate that domestic violence _ including beatings, rape and psychological abuse _ is on the rise but is seldom reported and even more rarely punished.

For years, women's groups, the Roman Catholic Church and other organizations have demanded stronger punishment to crack down on domestic violence. House and Senate committees have been lobbying for the bill for more than a year.

The campaign picked up momentum following July 6 elections in which the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party lost its absolute majority in Congress.