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New Zealand legalizes gay marriage

First country in the Asia-Pacific passes marriage equality law by 77 votes to 44
New Zealand Labour MP Louisa Wall, sponsor of the marriage equality bill

New Zealand has become the first country in the Asia-Pacific region, and the 13th country in the world, to legalize gay marriage.

The third reading of a marriage equality bill was held in the New Zealand parliament today (Wednesday 17 April) and was passed by 77 MPs' votes to 44.

'Excluding one group from marriage is oppressive and unacceptable,' said the Bill's sponsor Labour MP Louisa Wall, who was wearing a rainbow top for the occasion, when introducing the Bill.

'Nothing could make me more proud to be a New Zealander than passing this bill.'

The speeches before the vote were overwhelmingly celebratory in tone, marking the vote as a historic milestone for civil rights in New Zealand.

National MP Maurice Williamson said 'a big gay rainbow' across his electorate was a 'sign' that the bill would be passed today.

Fellow National MP Jami-Lee Ross gave a less jokey but just as supportive speech in favor of the Bill.

'Nobody gets hurt when gay couples say they're married, but gay couples who want to be married are hurt when they are kept from marrying by the state,' said Ross, who added that referendums are inappropriate for minority issues.

Gay Labour MP Grant Robertson shared a personal story about the hope the passing of the Homosexual Law Reform Act, which decriminalized sex between men, gave him as a teenager in 1986.

Green Party MP Kevin Hague pointed out that when he met his partner 28 years ago their relationship was illegal. He said he is happy to see gay relationships being officially sanctioned in his lifetime, but regrets that his parents didn't live to see this day.

'With this bill, Parliament stretches out its arms ... and says "you belong",' said Hague.

Labour MP Marayan Street said 'I'm gay. I don't wish to get married, but I don't want not to be able to get married.'

ACT MP John Banks said that he has changed his opinion since he opposed the Homosexual Law Reform Bill in 1986. 'I've had time to reflect on what I said and what I did,' he said. 'If I knew then what I have since learned, I would have acted differently. I see this is as a debate about human rights.'

In opposition to the Bill, NZ First leader Winston Peters, said 'there has hardly been a debate... and anyone who disagrees is a a bigot'. He called again for a referendum, which was put to a vote at the second reading and rejected by MPs by 83 to 33.

Despite voting in support of the Bill previously, National MP Chester Borrows said he was now voting against it because he think there should be a debate on 'what is marriage and what is not marriage'.

Marriage equality has seen support from MPs in all the main parties in New Zealand: National, Labour, Green Party, Maori, United Future, Act and Mana. Only New Zealand First voted wholly against the Bill.

To celebrate the victory for LGBT rights, campaign group Legalise Love Waikato are planning a family festival followed by a Just Married party at Shine nightclub in Hamilton on Saturday. The official vote afterparty is at San Francisco Bathhouse in Wellington tonight.

The Speaker opened-up the legislative council to the public to allow 300 more people to watch the vote live in parliament and New Zealand's first transgender MP Georgina Beyer, the Spanish and French ambassadors and a representative from the US Embassy watched from the public gallery, New Zealand Herald reports.

The first same-sex marriages in New Zealand will be performed in August.

The new law will also mean that married transgender people will not have to divorce when they realign their gender on official records.

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